75 year old woman excels at swimming

Rita Tebbetts won five gold medals at swim meet in Meridian
Rita Tebbetts won five gold medals at swim meet in Meridian

NATCHEZ, Miss.: At a recent two-day meet in Meridian, a college student told Rita Tebbetts she wished she could swim like her.

“I told her it’s not too late,” the 75-year-old said.

Tebbetts knows. She first began swimming competitively when she was 55, after the death of her first husband. At the time, Tebbetts only competed within the state of Mississippi.

Once she remarried, her husband, Harvey Tebbetts, encouraged her to broaden her horizons and begin competing elsewhere, as well.

During the meet in Meridian, Tebbetts swam as the only woman in her age group in the 200-meter individual medley, 50-meter breaststroke, 100-meter breaststroke, 50-meter backstroke and 100-meter backstroke.

In addition to the events, she took part in four relays that were mostly for fun.

Tebbetts set records in all five events, creating a benchmark for future competitors. At the end of the meet, Tebbetts left wearing a thick collar of medals.

However, Tebbetts isn’t in it for the medals. “Being there is wonderful,” Tebbetts said. “I feel like I’m accomplishing something just being there.”

While this was far from Tebbetts’ first competition, it was one of the first where she had fitness support in the form of Alex “Dre” King. King is still working toward his certification as a personal trainer.

“It’s more like she’s my workout partner,” King said.

But for Tebbetts, he has been a source of guidance and knowledge.

“We started out as strangers, but it’s worked out real well,” Tebbetts said.

For a long time, Tebbetts worked without a coach or personal trainer. Harvey Tebbetts encouraged her to get one, even giving her a business card for a personal trainer.

She never called though. “I was afraid of getting too muscular if I worked out,” she said.

One day, Harvey saw King helping out others. He approached him and asked if he’d help out Tebbetts.
King had never worked with someone Tebbetts’s age before.

“I wanted a challenge because it was something new and I wanted to know if I could do it,” King said. “But I did not want to fail.”

They began working together on Jan. 21. One of Tebbetts’s biggest fears had been getting onto the block at her competitions.

In the past at competitions, she would often ask for help climbing onto the block so she could get into her starting position for the event. She was often afraid of losing her balance. Tebbetts was not used to a starting block because where she swims in Natchez doesn’t have one.

So when King asked her what her goals were, Tebbetts knew it would be on her list. “That was one of the first things he helped me overcome,” Tebbetts said.

She began stepping up and down on a bench to work on her balance.

Together, they worked on building up Tebbetts’s endurance and stamina, getting her ready for competitions.

“I do feel a difference,” Tebbetts said. “I feel like I have more stamina.”
On July 3-9, Tebbetts is heading to the Senior Olympics in Minneapolis, where she has won ribbons in the past. She will compete on July 7-9.

“Our goal is to put her in a competition with other people and still set records,” King said, referring to Tebbetts’ personal times.

For Tebbetts though, the best part is still just being there.

“I guess it’s just the challenge, pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do,” she said. -AP

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