Olympic swimmer tells all

PUBLISHED: 13:00 16 August 2012

Grace who took part in the 1952 Helsinki games with her medals and memorabilia.

Grace who took part in the 1952 Helsinki games with her medals and memorabilia.


WHILE much of the country has been cheering on the sports men and women at the London Olympics, there is one North Somerset pensioner who knows exactly how the competitors were feeling.

Grace Isaac is a former Olympic swimmer, having take part in the Helsinki Games in 1952.

Despite the fact she will be 80 on Sunday, the great grandmother still swims an average of three or four times a week at Churchill Sports Centre and competes all over the world.

Only this year she won two bronze medals in the 100 and 200 metres backstroke in the Masters Swimming World Championships in Italy.

Her interest in swimming first came about at the age of nine when she was evacuated to live with an aunt and uncle in Blackpool during World War Two.

When she returned home to Bristol 18 months later she joined the Bristol Central swimming club and went to see the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

Grace, of Orchard Close in Congresbury, said: “Just a few months ago I found out that my father had told my mother ‘we must go as Grace will swim in the next Olympic Games’.”

And she did just that, having already competed at the 1950 Empire Games in New Zealand.

But back in the 1950s things were far different from the conditions seen on the television during the successful London 2012 Olympics.

For the Empire Games Grace was not provided with a swimming costume, just a badge - and it took five weeks to reach New Zealand by boat.

Grace said: “We put on weight as the food was good and we only swam a couple of times in the five weeks.

“We had no coaches with us – I like to say we were amateurs with a professional attitude towards what we did.”

Grace and her team-mates picked up a bronze in the 400m relay at the games and when she got back her father suggested she give up work and train for the Olympics.

She came eighth in her class at the games and beat her personal best at the time.

But when Grace returned she got married to an airman and had three children, so there was no time for swimming.

It was 39 years before Grace would swim properly again, but her son spurred her on to return to the sport following her painful divorce.

Now there is no stopping her – despite breaking her ribs and wrist last autumn she was back racing in the pool in January.

Grace, who moved to North Somerset in the 1960s and worked for Woodspring District Council for 18 years, added: “My son Phil said to me after my divorce ‘I’d like to have happy mum back again’.

“He challenged me and I found my competitive streak coming back.

“I have been into schools to talk to the children, because I hope to inspire them.

“Life is a competition and it’s good for them to realise that you don’t get anywhere without trying.”

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