Hall of Fame Honor Helps Diver Plunge Into Her 2nd Century

Times Staff Writer

The ego strokes keep coming for 101-year-old swimmer Viola Cady Krahn.

She has demonstrated her signature dive on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." She once stood on the shoulders of the king of surfers, Duke Kahanamoku, as he rode the waves at Laguna Beach.

And she learned last week that she is one of 15 people who will be inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in its inaugural year.

Krahn received the news in a phone call to her Laguna Woods home from Bob Duenkel, executive director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which recently added the masters category. "I just heard about it a minute or two ago and it hasn't digested yet," Krahn said Friday. "I guess I have to see it in black and white first, to make sure."

Krahn's selection was unusual not only because of her age, but also because of her long diving and swimming career, which began more than 80 years ago and still is going strong.

While on "The Tonight Show" at age 100 in August, she donned a bathing suit and dove effortlessly into a pool.

"We hear a lot of great stories about people and why they should be a part of the Hall of Fame, and this one is a great one because she's been involved in diving her whole life," Duenkel said. "She married her coach, who later became the coach for the U.S. swim team, and entered the masters swimming program at the ripe age of 76.

"The fact that she's still diving is phenomenal."

Her love affair with water began in 1919 while vacationing in Long Beach from her home in Arizona. She had honed her swimming skills and swam out to the battleship Vermont, anchored more than a mile offshore. She was later plucked from the waters by sailors who were enamored with the 18-year-old who swam like a dolphin.

She returned to Los Angeles and continued her swimming career by joining the Los Angeles Athletic Club, then coached by Fred Cady, who fell in love with and married Krahn. She won junior national diving championships in 1922, '23 and '24. In 1922, she set the fastest pace for a female at that time for the 220 meters, wrote Margery Voyer Cole of Santa Ana in her book "Viola: Diving Wonder and Aquatic Champion."

Krahn calls Cole her best friend, while Cole refers to the swimming champion as "Auntie," though they are not related.

Krahn also was part of a relay team that made the 26-mile crossing from Long Beach to Santa Catalina Island, a grueling journey that took nearly 24 hours in choppy waters. During the swim, she vomited and suffered severe leg cramps.

Cady, who coached several U.S. Olympic teams, died in 1960. He was posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

In the late 1960s, Krahn moved from Sherman Oaks to Leisure World in southern Orange County to be near the ocean again. There, she met her second husband, Fred Krahn. They were married in 1970; he died in 1986. Through his support, she returned to diving in 1978.

But a hall of fame was out of reach for her until this year. Cole said she wrote numerous letters recommending Krahn, who also won support from the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum.

To be eligible for the masters Hall of Fame, an athlete must compete for at least 16 years and have won world, national or regional championships. They also must contribute to the masters program, Duenkel said, adding, "it's not just winning the medals."

As part of Krahn's induction ceremony later this year, a plaque with her name will hang in the Hall of Fame's corridor, and a video of her life will be produced and shown at the Fort Lauderdale shrine.

As recently as a year ago, Krahn was competing in her age group at U.S. masters diving competitions. Of course, she was the only competitor in her classification. "Nowadays I just go out to the end of the board and push in," she joked.

Duenkel said her competitive edge was part of the reason she was inducted.

"A lot of Olympic athletes serve as role models and inspirations for the young kids," he said, "but somebody like Vi Cady Krahn serves as an inspiration for the older people. Here's somebody who is still doing it, going strong and enjoying it."

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