‘Grandma’ turned into a queen

  • By Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Monday, August 9, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – Finding Jill Cramer is hardly a difficult task. One must simply swing by the Forest Park Pool in Everett and ask for the queen.

It’s a long-standing inside joke that Cramer has been building since she started working at the pool as a “peasant” 29 years ago before working her way up to recreation coordinator.

But in 1968, Cramer felt kind of like royalty while representing Great Britain at the Olympics in Mexico City.

In addition to being the captain of the British team, Cramer was believed to be the first person in her country’s history to qualify for back-to-back Olympics. She finished fifth in the 200-meter breaststroke as a 19-year-old in 1964, then came back again in 1968 to take ninth.

“It was two totally different experiences,” Cramer said of her two trips to the Olympic Games. “I was gobsnobbed – amazed – just to make the team when I was 19. Then to be the team captain in Mexico was a huge honor. The typical shelf life of a swimmer is usually 19, 20 years, so as a 23-year-old, I was the old maid. They all called me Grandma.”

One common thread in both of Cramer’s trips to the Olympics was an ability to let loose and have fun. As anyone who has ever met Cramer can attest, she has a playful side that often makes the 59-year-old seem like a twenty-something.

“It’s never dull around here with her around,” said Marianne Pugsley, recreation supervisor for the Forest Park Pool.

Cramer admits that she partook in a cocktail or two during both Olympic Games, but she’s unwilling to divulge much more than that. All she’ll say is that she had a lot of fun.

“You hear of kids who want to be Olympians their whole lives, and I wasn’t like that,” the native of Sheffield, England, said. “I was just happy being with the swimmers and having a bloody good time.”

Cramer was a late bloomer, as she didn’t even start to swim competitively until after her 12th birthday. She was a British national champion just seven years later, when she qualified for her first Olympic Games.

Back then, Olympic athletes were true amateurs, so Cramer had to find time to train between 40-hour-a-week jobs – first as a printer, and then as a hairdresser.

Two years after the 1968 Games, she moved to Indianapolis, but didn’t exactly fall in love with the Midwest. So in 1974, she moved to Marysville. Never married, Cramer now lives on Whidbey Island and is in her 29th year at the Forest Park Pool.

She intends to travel to Europe next year to celebrate her 60th birthday with her twin brother, Trevor, but Cramer hardly looks or acts her age.

“Your age doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s your outlook on life. I start my day with a laugh every morning, because you never know whether you’re going to be here tomorrow.”

Cramer is still in touch with two of her Olympic teammates, swimmers Sheila Taylor and Alex Jackson. The trio got together recently in Spain to talk about the late 1960s.

“We sat around chit-chatting, and all three of us said we were embarrassed to tell people we were in the Olympics,” Cramer said. “We realized that’s silly. Why should we be embarrassed?”

Cramer cherishes her Olympic experience, even if the years have faded the memories.

“When I look back, it’s sort of like it was somebody else who was there, like I watched it on the telly,” she said. “I remember the last time the Olympics were on, I was thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to go to the Olympics? Then I thought: You silly cow, you’ve been there.”

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