Hall of Fame: Joan Dowsett Osborne (1933)

Great-great-granddaughter of Gerrit P. Judd – one of the founders of Punahou – Joan started swimming at Punahou in elementary school. At the time, because there were no organized ILH sports activities for girls, competition was restricted to inter-class swimming meets. Year after year, Joan was a consistent high-point winner in these meets. Her strong events were freestyle, breaststroke, diving and the plunge.This article appears as originally published in the Summer 1994 issue of the Punahou Bulletin.

In 1931, Olympian Mariechen Wehselau (Hall of Fame 1980), recognizing Joan’s potential as a swimmer, selected her, along with a number of other Punahou girls, for special training in long distance open-water events. Just a teenage, Joan more than “held her own” against adult competitors. One of the mentors was none other than Duke Kahanamoku.

Following graduation, Joan enrolled in Tuft’s School of Occupational Therapy from which she graduated in 1937. Shortly thereafter, Joan married Lloyd Osborne. Along came WWII. With Lloyd in the Navy and faced with rearing a growing family, Joan found no opportunity for competitive swimming.

The years went by. Then in 1973, Lloyd, who had captained Yale’s swimming teams in college, was persuaded by his old friend and fellow competitor, Buster Crabbe (1927) (Hall of Fame 1980), to join Masters Swimming. Lloyd insisted that Joan join also Joan capitulated and after two weeks of intensive workouts, at age 56, won the 50 and 100 yard freestyle events in her age group, setting a national record in the latter. This was the beginning of a remarkable career!

As far as it can be determined, no woman has as yet come close to compiling a record to match that achieved by Joan during her 13 years of participation in U.S. Women’s Masters Swimming (1973 – 1986), and it is generally believed no woman ever will. In assessing her record it must be borne in mind that in the National Championships until 1979, competitors were restricted to entering no more than five of the 16 events held in both short course pools (25 meters), and long course pools (50 meters). Since 1979 the limit is six events.

In brief, her record: Events entered – 94; First place – 65; Second place – 18; Third place – 7; Fourth place – 4; National records – 25; World Records – 3 (2 still standing).

After cataract surgery in 1986, Joan’s doctor informed her she could no longer dive off starting platforms. So? She continued to participate in and win backstroke events!

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