She Competes Next Week in Denmark : For Diver, 87, It’s Still Spring-Time
One medal lies flat in the palm of the hand, its engraving slightly eroded by time. The other is round, the size of a Christmas ornament.
Viola Krahn of Laguna Hills won them both. Sixty-two years apart.
The first medal came in 1923 at a swimming meet in Los Angeles. The other she won in 1985, competing in the over-80 age group at a diving competition in Toronto. And next week, the 87-year-old Krahn leaves for Denmark for another competition.
“I’m looking forward to Denmark, to see if I can beat the little old European ladies,” she said Friday at her Leisure World apartment.
Krahn, who turns 88 in December, will participate in the 2nd World Masters Games in Aarhus, Denmark, an athletic festival for those 21 and older who have retired from die-hard world competition.
Called an Inspiration
Other competitors said that Krahn is an inspiration who shares her passion with others.
“She’s proud of what she does. She’s a real natural athlete,” said Leisure World resident Barbara Pederson, 63, who will join Krahn in Denmark as a synchronized swimmer. “She has the body that most women of 50 would die for.”
Still, Krahn, whom friends call Vi, said it’s common for people to ask how someone her age can continue diving. “They can’t believe I can even make it up to the board, let alone jump,” she said. “Once I’m on the board and in the air, I’m at home. When I’m told I’m too old, I tell everyone, ‘I don’t believe you.’ ”
Krahn’s interest in aquatics began as a teen-ager when her mother and father moved to Southern California. She later joined the Los Angeles Athletic Club and became a junior national swimming champion.
She renewed her interest in diving 11 years ago at age 76, urged on by other senior divers. She had quit competitive sports in her early 20s and later married
Olympic diving coach Fred Cady, who died in 1960. She later remarried.
Krahn, who also plays golf and rides horses, practices diving every week, mostly at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Her favorite dives are inward pikes, but she does other, more complicated ones such as back half-twists and forward half-twists--dives that attest to the fact that she is still nimble.
“Once you reach 80, life catches up to you,” Krahn said, dressed in a black athletic suit studded with colorful emblems and patches. “You have to stay a step ahead.”
Patty Fulton, 69, a competitive diver who trains with Krahn, said that Krahn attracts attention at meets.
“Vi is a very special one,” Fulton said. “Everyone crowds around her. Everyone wants to know her secrets.”
But Krahn, who has no children or brothers and sisters, said there is no secret to her longevity. “I haven’t done anything special,” she said. “I never smoked. I didn’t think the boys would kiss me if I smelled like tobacco.”
Krahn’s energy continues even after rigorous competition, friends said. “After a meet, I go to sleep,” Fulton said. “ She plays a round of golf.”
Next week’s trip will be Krahn’s first to Europe. She plans to visit Finland, Norway and Switzerland, in addition to her two-week stay in Denmark.
At the meet, “She should come home with all the gold,” Fulton said. “The others in her age group just fall off the board.”
Although Krahn said she can’t keep up with the flips and turns of today’s competitors such as Olympian Greg Louganis--her favorite--she said she nevertheless has a lot of fun.
“I’ll take it as it is,” she said. “I’m just supposed to have a good time. I would hate to belly-flop, though. It’s embarrassing. Some men do it and come up laughing. I don’t want to do that.”