A tribute to a legend: Caroline Krattli
Caroline Krattli, 55, holds 12 world records and is ranked among the top 10 all-time Masters swimmers for her age group in every stroke. She’s more than just the best in the world, she’s redefining what is possible in her sport. Her most recent club is Wind-n-Sea Masters Swimming (WIND). Some things that Caroline Krattli does not do:
- Two-a-day practices
- Year-round weightlifting
- 7-8,000 yard practices
- Organized nutritional and supplement plans
- Things she does do:
- Travel (she loves to plan meets based on her travel interests)
- Spend time fixing up the 1930’s house that she and her husband of 20 years share
It’s January. The weather, even in Southern California, has changed. The UC San Diego swimmers file out of the locker rooms at 5:57 a.m., side by side with the Masters swimmers who share the pool with them on weekday mornings. In the early-morning winter light, swimmers look the same. They all come out huddled, their arms crossed over their chests, shoulders hunched forward, with a high-stepped scurry across the cold deck. Masters swimmers pass for college athletes, and 19-year-old kids move just like middle-aged accountants.
Usually, though, they look less alike when they get in the water. Usually. At UCSD, one of its fastest, most technically-refined swimmers get in on the Masters’ side of the pool, not with the collegiate team. It’s been a few years now since Caroline Krattli finished college, but her 1:04 in the 100 yard breaststroke would still make her the fastest woman on most NCAA Division II or III college teams. In fact, in 2002, the year that Caroline swam that time, a 1:04 in the 100 breast would have placed fourth at the NCAA Division II Championships and first at the DIIIs.
But she wasn’t there that year, she was 40 years old! Forty was a good age for Caroline. In March 2002 at the FINA World Championships in New Zealand, she won five gold medals, setting world records in the 50-100-200 meter breast and 200 IM for women 40-44. She also just missed setting a fifth WR in the 50 back. She was reaping the benefits of a new stroke – the “wave” breaststroke, which she began to learn in 2000. It had taken her two years to perfect it. After over 30 years of swimming the old-style, flat, low breaststroke, she decided that a new millennium might be just the right time to re-invent the way she had always, successfully, swum her best stroke.
After over 30 years of swimming the old-style, flat, low breaststroke, she decided that a new millennium might be just the right time to re-invent the way she had always, successfully, swum her best stroke. It sounds like the brave, even courageous, kind of thing that we have come to expect of great champions and superior achievers. But that’s not it at all. It’s nothing as dramatic as all that – and altogether more fun.
As a young girl growing up in San Diego in the 1960s and ’70s, Caroline Hart was a swimmer. She raced and started to become competitive nationally while swimming for the La Mesa Swim Club under Coach Darrell Swinsen. After the loss of her long-time coach and mentor in the late ’70s, she moved to Mission Viejo and was coached by Mark Schubert. On the national scene, she competed against the great Tracy Caulkins. in the nation in the 200 meter breast. She was among the nation’s elite young swimmers, and she was having fun. She doesn’t remember feeling like an Olympic hopeful. Instead, she remembers enjoying the chance to go to new cities and see new places. She recalls that time fondly, and her tone doesn’t change when she tells you that she quit that scene. At 17, she left the Nadadores and returned to San Diego. It wasn’t a case of burnout or injury. Training away from home was financially difficult, and she was ready to do other things.
She swam for a couple of more years at Grossmont Community College. In 1980, she set the state and national community college records in the 100 yard breast with a 1:06. But when you talk to her about it now, it almost sounds like an afterthought. Soon after college, she was done with swimming_no hard feelings; just time for something new. For nine years she was a beach lifeguard, and that was fun, too. In the mid-’80s, she went back to school and earned her nursing degree. She’s been in that field since 1986.
In 1989, Caroline discovered beach volleyball. For most of the next 10 years, that is what got her excited. At one point, she was the No.1-ranked AA player in the California Beach Volleyball Association. She was at the top of her game at a time in the mid-1990s when the sport was rocketing into the national limelight. By then, swimming was no longer even a blip on her radar screen. By 1997, Caroline was 36 years old, and the wear and tear of beach volleyball was beginning to take its toll. Maybe, she thought, she would get back into the pool and swim through the winter to stay in shape and give her body a break.
Back in the Water
It had been about 18 years since she had stopped swimming. At first, she remembers feeling bored. Up and back, up and back – it certainly wasn’t beach volleyball. But, no stranger to the habits of success, she decided she needed some goals that would keep things focused and interesting. She decided to swim at the Spring Masters Nationals. It would give her something to shoot for, and a trip to Indianapolis sounded like it might be worth it. She made it. And once again, she was having fun.
Caroline was too busy looking ahead – planning her next challenge, to worry about not being a volleyball player anymore. And that’s good, because her next goal was a doozy. Caroline wanted to swim at Spring Nationals again. This time, though, she wasn’t talking about Masters Nationals. Caroline Krattli wanted to make the 1:05.19 qualifying mark in the 100 yard breast for the U.S. Senior Nationals! It would be fun, she said, just to swim with the likes of Amanda Beard and Tara Kirk and see what happens -to see what she could do at 42 years old.
She did it because she was that good. She did it because she’s taken her goals very, very seriously. But most of all, she did it because she just plain loved doing it. Shooting for nationals – or whatever goal she happens to have – is just part of the way Caroline enjoys living. And it’s a more balanced life than one might imagine.
Like Most of Us
She lives like most of us. We do more than one thing. We have more than one interest. It might be fair to say, though, that if the volume dial on our lives usually reads around a 4 or 5, hers routinely measures in the 7s and 8s. There is a great intensity – pleasant, warm and even lighthearted as it may be – that is just a part of who she is. In her own mind, she is not that unusual. Her own achievements, to her, seem like nothing compared to fellow San Diego swimmer, Betsy Jordan. Jordan, says Krattli, is truly inspiring.
“She is in such great shape, and she’s swimming so well in her 60s. That’s what I want,” she says. Meeting people all over the world such as Betsy, says Krattli, is what really inspires her. Although Caroline may swim faster than most of her peers, she still loves Masters swimming the same way we all do. She just wants to stay in shape, have something to call her own and enjoy a good group of people. For Caroline, it just so happens that it also means pushing herself and her sport to new levels.
Today, at 55, Caroline is more than just the best in the world. She is redefining what is possible in her sport. She currently holds 12 world records and is ranked among the top 10 all-time Masters swimmers for her age group in every stroke. And she’s not finished. Now she still wants to have some fun! Some ten years ago, she was emphasizing her other strokes because she wanted to conquer the individual medley. And in October of 2007, she swam her lifetime best of 4:39.24 in the 400 (short course meters) freestyle. Caroline Krattli has never been better than she was at that time!
On cold November mornings, when the swimmers have filed into their “appropriate” lanes, say around 7:05 a.m. or so, you just might hear a college coach. He’ll be talking to a young athlete that he’s pulled out of the water for stroke instruction. After a few minutes of explanation and various futile hand gestures, you’ll finally see him point and say, “There, you see what Caroline is doing….” She’s just that good. Tate Hurvitz is the assistant swim coach for the men’s and women’s teams at the University of California, San Diego. He also swims with San Diego Masters and is a lecturer in the English department at the University of California, Riverside.