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In the water, she's in her natural element

A Sun City Center resident took to the water early for fun and swam professionally too. At 77 she is a top masters competitor in her age group and still wild about swimming.

By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 28, 2002


SUN CITY CENTER -- At the age of 10, Florence Carr was thrilled as she watched Americans try out for the 1936 men's USA Olympic swim team near her home on Long Island, N.Y. After the team was selected and gone, the pool became a popular place for children and families to gather and swim.

Officials provided swimming races each week, with free trips to swim for a day as prizes. Carr won races each week, earning free passes for herself and her friends.

Even though high school, college and Olympic competition was not available for her or any women during her earlier years, the Amateur Athletic Union did not discriminate. Carr competed regularly, winning New York state championships in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and individual medley events.

"I enjoyed competing in AAU meets for women, and that opened some doors for me early in my life," Carr said. "Boys could compete in high school, college and Olympic meets. The girls were not even allowed to watch the high school meets, because they usually swam nude."

When she turned 19, Carr was given an opportunity to become a professional swimmer. The Buster Crabbe Water Follies came to town, and she learned through a friend that the group was looking for an additional swimmer.

"My state championships opened the door for them to give me a tryout, and after I swam they gave me the job," she said. "They paid $75 a week, which was a lot when the average pay in New York at the time was $28. It only lasted about six months, but it led to other professional jobs."

The experience led to many other swimming jobs, including parts in the James Bond thriller Goldfinger and the Jerry Lewis comedy The Bell Boy. She also appeared in an Esther Williams show.

Now 76 and living in Sun City Center, Carr continues to swim for fun, exercise and competition.

In 1966, she started competing in masters meets in California. She starting winning early, and she still wins.

She was recently selected as the age 75-79 Masters Lady Swimmer of the Year by USA Swimming magazine. She set and still holds six national records from her 2001 competition.

"I have always found ways to be involved in swimming mostly for fun, and masters swimming is still fun," Carr said. "My kids also got involved in swimming, and it is still part of their lifestyle with their own families."

In the 2001 nationals meet, Carr became the first woman her age to crack the 35-second mark in the 50-yard freestyle and the 1:30 mark in the 100 freestyle. She swam 34.78 in the 50 and 1:19.38 in the 100.

She also set new records in the 200 freestyle, 50 backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, plus the 100 and 200 individual medley races.

Although most of her aquatic talent is natural, she works hard at staying in shape to compete. Six days a week she gets up at 4:30 a.m., leaves her home in Sun City Center at 5:15 and is in the pool at the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club by 6:30 to start a 11/2-hour training session.

"I swim 3,500 to 4,000 meters in each session," she said. "From it I get good exercise, which helps me stay healthy and sleep well. Swimming is very important to me. I also enjoy skiing, both water and snow."

More gold medals for Florence Carr

In the U.S. Masters Nationals earlier this month in Hawaii, Flo Carr won gold medals in all six events she competed in for women age 75-79. Carr took first place in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle, 50 butterfly, 50 breaststroke and 100 individual medley.

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