By Christopher Boan Green Valley News
It’s 1,926 miles between Waltham, Mass. and Amarillo, Texas — and in 1971 Ted Haartz and three of his friends drove every mile of it to dive into the world of competitive swimming.
Haartz, now a Green Valley resident, and company found out about the U.S. Masters Swimming National Championships in Swimming World Magazine, which posted the winning times from that year’s inaugural event.
He quickly realized that the foursome, who swam with the local boys club, could compete on a national level, prompting them to enter the competition and make the arduous drive to the Yellow Rose of Texas for the national competition.
The four-man team placed fourth in their age group and stoked a competitive fire in Haartz that would live on for decades to come.
Haartz would compete in dozens of national championships, holding six world age group records during his career.
His contributions to the sport earned him a place in the U.S. Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2013, thanks in large part to his contributions as the organization’s third president from 1978-1981, and his role as an ex-officio member of the USA Swimming and U.S. Masters Swimming Boards of Directors.
His love of swimming traces back to his days at Tufts University in Boston, where he lettered as a swimmer after getting cut from the school’s tennis team as a freshman in 1946.
“I did not make the team per say in the first year. I did as a sophomore through hard work, etc., etc.,” Haartz says. “I earned my letter in college in my junior and senior years there. And I so thoroughly enjoyed the sport that I kept swimming. And I’ve been swimming full-time ever since.”
Haartz, now 88, was among 10 Arizonans selected to the inaugural class of the Arizona Swimming, Inc. Hall of Fame this year, which caught him by surprise.
“I was selected as a contributor. I’d never make it as an athlete,” Haartz joked. “(My swimming career was) nothing you’d write home about. But for not being an exceptional athlete, why I’ve had a very successful swimming career.”
Haartz’s impact on the sport of swimming is unquestioned by long time friends like Tracy Grilli, who swam with him for years on the local Masters team in New England.
Grilli, who serves as member services director for the organization, says Haartz’s grasp of the sport of swimming is unparalleled, and he’s left a lasting impact on the sport through his contributions.
“When Ted talks, people listen,” Grilli says. “He is just a very, very smart man. He sees the big picture and then he can very logically explain it in a very steady manner.”
In 2009, the organization named an award after him— the Ted Haartz Staff Award — in recognition of the impact he had in building and supporting the organization through the years.
Grilli spoke of how Haartz would return every year for the organization’s annual conference, even after he retired from competitive swimming in 2013.
Haartz’s streak came to an end this year after back surgery forced him to stay away from the convention, but his impact on the organization was felt nonetheless.
“Ted’s not only a huge figure in swimming, but with the U.S. Masters Swimming organization in general,” Grilli says. “He’s not doing much swimming these days, but he was the best in his age group in the breaststroke for a number of years. So he’s a great swimmer and he’s an even better person.”
Haartz says his five-decades-long swimming career was always his escape from the long hours he worked as an executive with the Haartz Corporation — a company started in 1924 by a great uncle of his.
“These are my avocations,” Haartz says of swimming. “I never worried about retirement simply because I had this area of athletics where I was a participant, where I was an administrator, where I was involved in all aspects of the sport.”
Haartz kept swimming after moving to Green Valley in 1994 with his wife Alicia, training on his own while entering the National Championship and helping out as an official when he wasn’t competing.
He says that hitting the pool was always his release from the ardors of everyday life, and that he’s been fortunate enough to make lifelong friends through the sport.
“(Swimming) served many purposes for me over the years,” Haartz says. “Everything from ‘a walk in the woods,’ to getting away from the telephones during my working days. It was my other life, and all aspects of it were important.”
He says his decision to join that boys club after returning home from his military service in Japan in the early 1950s was the best he’s ever made.
“It’s just been a facet of my life that’s added to it bountifully,” he says. “The wonderful people that I met. It’s all fantastic.”