Tebbetts wins golds, sets records at Mississippi swim meet

Published 12:46 am Monday, July 12, 2010

NATCHEZ — As her children were growing up, Natchez resident Rita Tebbetts watched them compete on the swim team while they were in school.

It’s not often a parent picks up the mantle after their children grow up, but that’s exactly what Tebbetts, 70, did with competitive swimming.

“I didn’t swim seriously as a child, because we just didn’t have it available to us,” Tebbetts said.

“I started swimming for therapy at 48, after my first husband died. For a while, I just swam for the exercise, but then I got something in the mail about the Senior Olympics, and I thought it’d be a good idea.”

Even though she wasn’t able to get other people at the Natchez Senior Citizen Center interested, Tebbetts said that didn’t stop her from getting involved in the Senior Olympics and the U.S. Masters Swimming organization. On June 26, Tebbetts captured five gold medals in the ages 70 to 74 division at the Mississippi Masters swimming event in Meridian. She also set four state records for the age group in the process.

“It was exciting when they’d call our names to get the medals, and then say, ‘And setting a record in this category,’” Tebbetts said.

“I’d never heard that before. I’ve won gold medals before, but I’ve never set records.”

Tebbetts was timed at 1:16.09 in the 50-meter breaststroke, 1:06.50 in the 50-meter backstroke, 2:46.90 in the 100-meter individual medley and 2:43.13 in the 100-meter breaststroke. She also won the gold in the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 2:29.41.

In addition to five gold medals and four state records, Tebbetts said she was also excited that she got to swim at the same time some of the men did at the Mississippi Masters.

“There were only three women total, and all of them were uncontested in their age categories. We didn’t have enough women to fill the competition, so we’d have a man in the lane next to us.”

Tebbetts said she also wants to go to Baton Rouge in September and swim in the Senior Olympics qualifying event the city is hosting.

“I already qualified for some categories when I went to the qualifying event in Reymond April 8, but I want to qualify for other categories (in Baton Rogue),” she said.

“If I qualify for more categories, they’ll let me choose which ones I want to compete in when I go to the national competition in Houston next year.”

And although she’s also qualified for the national Masters competition, Tebbetts said she wouldn’t be doing both.

“That one’s in San Diego, which would be too expensive for me to travel to. Plus, my daughter lives outside of Dallas, so when I go to Texas, I could also make a trip to see her,” Tebbetts said.