By Wally Kennedy
MONETT, Mo. — Virginia “Ginny’’ Duenkel was a 17-year-old New Jersey girl when she stood on the medal stand at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Having gold and bronze medals draped around her neck for swimming were defining moments in her life, but they almost did not happen.
Today, at age 61, Ginny Fuldner has been mesmerized by the triumphs of swimmers such as Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics. In her heart, she still yearns for the mental and physical challenges of performing in the world’s greatest athletic contest.
“When I watch the swimming, particularly the events I competed in, I wish that I were still competing,’’ she said. “That’s not fathomable now, but I always will want that.
“I loved the competition part of it. I loved the challenge of it. When I watch them get their medals, I can hardly do so without tearing up, sitting there in my living room. The emotions and feelings I had in the days when I competed all come back to me.’’
But winning those Olympic medals might not have happened at all if it had not been for a moment of utter frustration on the part of her father. At age 9, she was terrified of water.
“I was 9 years old before I learned how to swim. My two brothers and parents spent whole summers at a local swim club, but I would never get into the water. I hung around the pool and found ways to entertain myself,’’ she said.
“One day, my father was frustrated that I would not get in the water. He picked me up and threw me in the pool. There was a lot of yelling and screaming going on, and people were looking at him like he had done something wrong,’’ she said. “When I figured out that I could stand up — the water was only knee deep — I thought this isn’t so bad after all. I learned how to swim and the rest is history.’’
By Wally Kennedy
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