Six Days to Swim: Jeff Farrell Relives 1960 Emergency Appendectomy, Olympic Trials Experience in His Own Words (Part 3)

Editor's Note: In this exclusive Swimming World release, Jeff Farrell discusses the week leading up to the 1960 Olympic Trials, in which he endured an emergency appendectomy just days before he was to race multiple events at the 1960 Olympic Trials. In part three of the three-part series, Farrell talks about racing the 200 freestyle and the experience of swimming at the Olympic Games.

I swam in the 200-meter preliminaries and semi-finals, qualifying for the finals. The fastest six finalists would go to Rome. Many of my friends had already made the team. My disappointment at missing in the 100 meters began to fade, and by the evening of the 200-meter finals I was eager just to place high enough to make the team. A second approach from the Olympic Swimming Committee, offering a later race to qualify for the relay, was rejected without hesitation.

More telegrams arrived. The one that inspired me most was from a stranger:

YOUR COURAGE IS UNSURPASSED IN SPORTS IN MY HUMBLE OPINION YOU HAVE DONE MORE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COMPETITIVE SWIMMING THAN ANY OTHER PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT MAY YOUR HEALTH MATCH YOUR COURAGE AND KISS THE GOLD MEDALS FOR ME…..FATHER OF THREE AGE GROUP SWIMMERS MAMES N SIMONS

The stands were again packed that night, and it seemed that even more people than before were there to see me make the team. I knew that I had to do it. And I did, finishing fourth out of the six qualifiers.

When I received my certificate naming me a member of the U.S. Olympic Team, every person in the stands stood up and applauded. I was overcome with gratitude for Bob, my parents, the doctors and the uncounted supporters who had willed me onto the team. I had made it. I would have no chance to win the 100-meter gold medal, but I was on the team.

In Rome I was named co-captain of the team. My 54.7 in time trials put me on the 4×100 medley relay finals team. On September 1st the finals of the two relays were held. I anchored both relays and we won both in world record times. And even though I had to watch the 100-meter freestyle finals from the bench, admittedly with regret, I knew that being there, participating, was what mattered.

I thought of then and have, on occasion since, recalled the words of Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, displayed on the giant scoreboard at the opening ceremonies of every Olympics:

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing is life is not the triumph but the struggle to have fought well.

Click here to read Part One.

Click here to read part Two.

This story was originally published in “Six Days to Swim” by Swimming World Magazine in 1970, and authored by Jean M. Henning.

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