A debut memoir of a swimmer who recovered from surgery to compete in the 1960 Olympics.
Six days before the U.S. Olympic trials for the 1960 Games in Rome, Farrell, then the fastest swimmer in the world, underwent an emergency appendectomy. His dreams of making the U.S. team, let alone winning Olympic gold, appeared to be shattered. This stirring account details how he defied the medical odds and managed to return to the water in time for the trials. “I had accomplished a virtual athletic miracle,” he recalls, and he would go on to win two gold medals in relay events—a testament, he says, to his “strange combination of physical and mental distress, despair, doubt, hope, belief and finally courage to accomplish my goal.” When he initially woke up from the anesthesia, his understanding of what had happened to him had reduced him to tears: “[T]he surgeon had removed not only my appendix, but also my dream of winning a gold medal in the Rome Olympics.” But only two days after the surgery, he was walking around in a pool in the hospital basement, his 5-inch incision protected by a wraparound bandage. Before his first race at the trials, “a girl placed a small crucifix from her rosary on my starting block,” expressing what the author took to be “fear, faith, and hope.” Farrell effectively interweaves his story of miraculous recovery with engaging recollections of his swimming career: As a youth, he trained in a 16-yard pool in Wichita, Kansas, that had no lanes or markings. He also looks at the evolution of his sport; at the time he competed, for example, there were no goggles, forcing some swimmers to rub Vaseline on their eyeballs to reduce the irritation from chlorine. Although Farrell missed out on his best event, the 100-yard freestyle, in Rome, his success still provides a powerful coda. Readers will leave with the pointed lesson that “it really wasn’t just about winning….[F]or me, it was also about moving forward in life.”
Entertaining recollections of a successful swimming career.