“My two sisters and I always wanted to swim, but I never dreamed that one day I’d be standing on top of the Olympic podium with the gold medal around my neck,” said Linda McGuire of Santa Cruz. “I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for my teammates, friends and coach—but especially for my dad. What he gave me was far better than gold.”
McGuire learned to swim when she was 3. Later on, she and two of her sisters swam locally at the Tri-County Program and eventually joined a swim club at Los Gatos High School. One day, the coach arranged a tryout for the prestigious Santa Clara Swim Team, and all three girls qualified. Here they swam with some of the best in the country. However this meant a 45-minute drive each way, twice a day, five days-a-week for five years. Their dad retired from his grocery business and took over as the family chauffeur.
“When I was in the eighth grade, my sisters decided to quit. I was afraid that Dad wouldn’t continue making this sacrifice just for me,” McGuire said. “But he kept his commitment and drove me — even after I got my driver’s license. The time we spent together was one of the highlights of my life.”
At age 16, McGuire qualified for Nationals and traveled across the country. She enjoyed having two sets of friends and visiting swim clubs in other states. In 1967, she received a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay at her first international competition, the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
“I was so nervous but loved the sport,” McGuire said. “I remember my friends saying that anyone who makes the Pan Am Games makes the Olympics.”
Next came the Olympic trials in Los Angeles. Although McGuire didn’t qualify in her favorite event — the 200-meter freestyle — she once again qualified for the 400-meter.
“Even though I was devastated, I felt encouraged by my coach and suddenly knew that I was going to make the Olympics,” said McGuire.
One year later, McGuire achieved her goal. She flew to Mexico City for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. Here she won gold in the 4-by-400-meter freestyle relay, the silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle, and the bronze medal in the 100-meter-freestyle.
Olympic glory was the highlight of some athletes lives, and after the games they went into depression without a purpose. McGuire was different.
Instead of hitting a wall after the Olympics, McGuire dove into the next phase of her life. She attended Michigan State University and majored in physical education.
“By then I was done with swimming,” she said. “I had already reached my goal and was ready to move on.”
McGuire then transferred to Humboldt State University and earned a master's degree in sports psychology. She married Tim McGuire, also an educator, who later became principal of Harbor High School. They had two sons and returned to Santa Cruz.
McGuire had a successful career as a physical education teacher at Soquel High School. In 1983, she transferred to Santa Cruz High and became the director of the teenage parent program.
She found great satisfaction in helping the girls become independent and successful in the community.
In 2010, McGuire was inducted into the Michigan State University Hall of Fame.
Today she enjoys traveling, walking, and spending time with her family and friends.
“I feel blessed to be able to enjoy the people God has put in my life,” said McGuire. ”I’m also thankful for the opportunities I've had. Even if I hadn't placed at the Olympics, it was worth every moment.”
- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. E-mail her at email@example.com.