Judy Young: Breaking Records and Expectations at 96

Judy Young isn’t you’re average competitive swimmer, nor is she your average grandmother. At a sprightly 96 years old, Judy Young is breaking records in the pool and nonagenarian expectations. 

Born in 1926, Young grew up in Queens County, New York, swimming as a child and a teenager in the tidal bay and making the trip down to the seaside as a family in summer. “So, I’ve been in the water a long time,” Young says. Those were the days “when mothers weren’t working as much…and there was no competition for girls,” so Young went about her life, working in the sales industry and as a secretary at The New Yorker Magazine, attending business college, getting married, and raising a family. It wasn’t until her husband’s job moved them to Jamestown that Young would be reunited with the water.  

With two active young sons, Young signed the family up for a YMCA membership. The cost of membership was so little Young felt compelled to give back so she became a volunteer. In 1971, Young went from being a volunteer to being the secretary to the executive director but, for Young, the YMCA became so much more than a job. As the fitness revolution started gaining traction, Young found more opportunities to be active through the YMCA. “As the movement for physical fitness was talked about more, I think that motivated me,” Young says. “The publicity of the importance of it for your wellness got me doing something again. The ‘Y’ had lot of classes for women. I went because I enjoyed it—physical fitness was always easy for me—but I actually thought is was the thing to do.” 

After Young retired in 1987, she had heard about a masters swimming league and brought it to the attention of the aquatics director. A team was started and Young, in her early sixties, began her competitive swimming career.  

Competition didn’t come naturally to Young but, she admits, she came to the point where she did enjoy it. With multiple age group records to her name, Young discovered she was good at competing and hasn’t stopped since.  

When she started, Young had tough competition from another woman in the 60-65 age group and the two went back and fourth several times between first and second place. As Young progressed through the age group divisions, sadly her competition became less and less but her friendships grew and grew.  “[Friendship] is the biggest advantage to me being on the swim team because I have lost so many friends and family,” Young explains. The average age of her fellow club members remains 40-65 years old and Young says that has changed her life. “If I didn’t have these younger friends, I would live a very restricted life. Swimming has really saved me as the years have gone on, because for some reason, these younger people seemed to be enjoying me as much as I'm enjoying them.” 

Now, in the 95-99 category, Young will be racing the YMCA National Swimming Championship in Florida this April and even if she doesn’t break any records, she’s already breaking expectations. “I’ve had many people kind of jokingly say, when I grow up, I want to be like you, and they are people in their sixties that are saying that to me. So it's kind of fun to think that I can be an inspiration without even trying, you know, just living and doing what I like to do. 

Who doesn’t want to grow up to be like Judy Young?