Tebbetts swims in national

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, July 6, 2011

NATCHEZ — For two weeks in June many of the top senior athletes in the country made their way to Houston for the 2011 National Senior Games.

Among those seniors was seventy-one-year-old Natchez native Rita Tebbetts, who made the trip west to compete against the top six different events.

Tebbetts topped a personal best time in the 200-yard breaststroke and placed eighth in the 70-74 women’s age group.

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“I shouldn’t be improving with age but I am, because I’m training harder and I lost weight and that helped,” Tebbetts said.

Tebbetts also accomplished personal best times in four of the five other swimming events in which she participated, but she did not place in the top eight in those events, she said.

She started swimming competitively at age 55, when she became eligible for the Senior Olympics, she said. Prior to that she used swimming as therapy after losing her first husband, Wally Jones, when she was 48.

“I swam recreationally when I was a kid,” Tebbetts said. “Then my kids were on the swim team, and I learned the techniques by watching them.”

This year’s event, on the campus of The University of Houston, was the third Senior Olympics that Tebbetts has participated, she said. Her first appearance at the Senior Games was 10 years ago in Baton Rouge.

Tebbetts said the competition at the national event is stiff.

“It’s tough, very tough,” she said. “Some people train with coaches, and I don’t have a coach.

“It’s funny seeing some (of the competitors) walking around the pool with walkers, and then they get in the pool and they can really go.”

Tebbetts said her only coach, and biggest fan, is her current husband Harvey.

“Harvey is my best cheerleader,” she said. “We’ve been married 15 years, and actually we spent our anniversary at the National Games.”

Rita said Harvey printed her a work out regiment that he found online and encouraged her to learn how to do a flip turn to improve her time.

Rita also participated in the Master’s State Games June 25 in Meridian. She swam unopposed at her age group to win four gold medals and break four state records, she said.

“I’m almost always assured of gold in Mississippi, but it gives you a thrill (to set records),” she said. “I just really enjoy it.”

Rita said she trains three to four times a week at the Natchez Senior Citizen Center. She has been trying to get other Natchez seniors to participate with no luck, she said.

“There’s a lot of people at the pool that could do it, but I can’t get them to,” she said. “I want to let them know how fun it is.”

Rita said the competition is something that continues to keep her involved in swimming.

“It gives me motivation to keep fit, and a chance to get with other people that have the same goals,” she said.