No stopping 80-year-old Susan
PUBLISHED: 14:23 07 December 2007 | UPDATED: 14:38 07 September 2010
SUSAN Halter loves swimming so much she carries a costume with her wherever she goes. But that isn t the Hungarian s greatest eccentricity, writes Jonny Weeks. Remarkably, Halter - a former Olympian born in 1927 - defies her 80 years by swimming every day
SUSAN Halter loves swimming so much she carries a costume with her wherever she goes. But that isn't the Hungarian's greatest eccentricity, writes Jonny Weeks.
Remarkably, Halter - a former Olympian born in 1927 - defies her 80 years by swimming every day and regularly competing for her local club Camden Swiss Cottage.
This weekend she will attend the London Masters Championships and is hoping to add to the haul of medals she has collected down the years.
Telling her extraordinary life-story to Ham&High Series, she explained: "Swimming is part of my psyche. I swim then have breakfast, it's the life that I'm used to.
"I love swimming and have done since I started when I six. It gives you discipline in your life.
"I had a fall last month which stopped me for a while, but now I am back in the pool and very happy."
Halter began competitive masters swimming in 1990, aged 63, after having had great success in the pool in her youth.
At her peak, she represented her homeland at the last London Olympics in 1948, though she finished her 100m freestyle heat in fifth in what she terms a "disappointing" time of one minute and 15.8secs.
"I was nervous and I had been too busy doing all the translating for my team to really concentrate on my swim, so it did not go as well as I'd hoped. I knew I could swim five seconds quicker," she said.
"But I think that in comparison to the Americans, we [the Hungarians] were less well trained and much leaner after the war so it was harder for us.
"Of course, I was very pleased to be at the Olympics and to be swimming at Wembley which was an amazing experience. I remember how the King and Queen were there, how exciting it was and how we girls had to wear knickers under swimsuits!"
Halter stayed in London to study after the Olympics and joined the hugely successful Mermaids club based at Finchley Road before giving up competitive swimming in 1956.
A chance introduction to masters swimming in 1990 reignited her passion for the sport and has led to her winning bronze and silver medals in World and European competitions held as far afield as Rio de Janeiro and Stockholm.
But while most of us take for granted the opportunity to swim at the local pool, Halter, who trains at Park Road in Crouch End, knows its value only too well.
As a teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Second World War, she was barred from entering her main pool in Budapest because she is Jewish, and was fortunate not to have been killed in an Austrian concentration camp.
"The war made swimming very difficult for us - we weren't allowed in the main pool and we were lucky to find anywhere to train," she explains.
"When I was about 18 I was taken on a march to Vienna [by the Nazis] and I escaped on the way, but I have since traced the records of some of those I was with and know they were killed, so of course I was lucky."
Looking to the future, Halter says she hopes to attend the next London Olympics in 2012. "I love watching people swim - I used to teach it myself - and so it would be wonderful to be there.