Carolyn Wood, BA '67
Carolyn Wood, then just 14 years old, swims for the USA at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome (photo by ANEFO)
By UO Student Lili Wagner
“When I participated in the Olympics, I had been swimming for four years,” says Carolyn Wood, BA ’67. “I started swimming when I was ten years old and I was fast when I was ten.”
When she was fourteen, she was even faster—fast enough to win a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, actually.
Wood, a Portland native, began her swimming career at the Multnomah Athletic Club. She was a natural, quickly setting state, regional, and national records. Wood qualified for the 1960 Summer Olympics before even entering high school.
“The whole experience was made more exciting by the exuberance of childhood but there was also the reality of being there to compete,” she recalls. “I was a person who was expecting to win a medal; I wasn’t just there to participate. I had to make some tough decisions regarding the opening ceremonies and seeing the Pope.”
Wood participated in the 100 freestyle, finishing fourth, and the 100 butterfly, which she did not finish after accidentally swallowing water on the turn. She also competed in the 4X100 freestyle relay, swimming the third leg.
“Going in to the race we had a lot of momentum,” Wood explained. "Australia had performed really well in the last Olympics so there was an impulse to regain power and beat them."
And beat them they did, setting a world record by nine seconds while they were at it. Winning Olympic Gold, Wood says, is “almost indescribable.”
Despite the thrill of victory, Wood kept her priorities straight upon returning from her Olympic triumph. “I never wanted to go to another Olympics. College was always my priority.”
She swam for another year after the Olympics but due to coaching changes at her club she decided to stop competing her senior year of high school. In lieu of competition, Wood took a summer job at a local pool.
“I decided to work as a lifeguard at the Beaverton pool,” she says. Working as a lifeguard qualified Wood as a professional, resulting in a ban from competition.
“I knew the consequences beforehand, that I would be ruled as a professional, and in those days everything was supposed to be amateur," she said. "I saved $65 working that summer and I was told that if I paid it back I could keep competing, but I had already moved on.”
Instead of paying back the money, Wood moved on to the University of Oregon where she pursued a BA in English.
“There was no Title IX then so I wasn’t able to swim in college, but I was very involved in a number of things," she said. "I was in a sorority. I had really good teachers. Suddenly, my sophomore year of college it was like the whole world came together.”
Upon graduation, Wood put her degree to use teaching high school English in the Portland area.
Though she no longer swims Wood continues to enjoy an active lifestyle today, hiking and doing yoga. She still resides in the Portland area.