Since 1953, Judy McGowan has been active as a synchronized swimming competitor, coach, judge and most importantly, as an administrator both nationally and internationally.
In her younger days of competition in Baltimore, Maryland, she was coached by 1912 British Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Famer Belle Moore Cameron and then by Dot Muhly. It all helped to prepare her for the many years of commitment and service she gave back to the sport.
In 1974, she was the U.S. delegate to the First International Conference on Synchronized Swimming in Ottawa, Canada, and was then elected to chair the International Judges Study Group from 1974-1984. In 1979, she was editor and primary author of the First International Training Manual for Synchronized Swimming Judges. She organized the Second International Conference on Synchronized Swimming in 1979 in Washington, DC.
Six years later in 1984, she became the chair of the Technical Synchronized Swimming Committee (TSSC) - the first woman ever appointed to chair of a FINA committee. She served in this position for 12 years, including eight as chairwoman. During her tenure, she innovated and improved judging and scoring procedures, initiated development clinics around the world, and developed training materials.
In 1988, she edited the first FINA Judging Manual, revising it in 1992. She chaired the FINA – TSSC Ad Hoc Committee on Degrees of Difficulty and authored its report, which established a systematic approach to assigning degrees of difficulty to FINA figures. She developed the first video tape series for training international routine judges by writing the script, selecting video clips, designing the format, and doing the video voiceover. She also wrote a teaching manual to accompany the tapes. She drafted the first rules and guidelines for technical routines and organized the first FINA Coaching Symposium for elite synchro coaches in 1992 at Olympia, Greece.
As an international clinician, she conducted and/or served 37 international clinics around the world including in Argentina, Australia (three), Brazil, Canada (two), China, Columbia (three), Cuba, Dominican Republic (two), Finland, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea (two), Mexico (two), Puerto Rico (two), Russia, Soviet Union, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, USA (seven), and Venezuela.
On the home front, she was the Founding President of U.S. Synchronized Swimming where she incorporated the organization, hired the first executive director and established the national office between 1977–1984. During this time, the U.S. National Team Program, National Age Group Championships and Masters programs began and the concept for the first USSS Coaches Certification Program was developed.
McGowan became the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee Task Force to investigate the status of Coaches Education in the United States for Pan American and Olympic Sports. All recommendations were subsequently adopted, including the establishment of a USOC Coaching Education Program. From 1984-1988, she chaired the Coaches Education Committee, organizing the first coaching education seminars for the USOC.
She became a member of the USOC Executive Board from 1980-1984 and was appointed by USOC president Bill Simon as the liaison for the Athletes Advisory Council. She served as an international judge at the 1984 and 2000 Olympic Games, serving as Chief Olympic Referee in 1988 and 1992 and as Competition Manager in 1996.
She was also a judge at the 1978, 1998, and 2005 World Championships; the 1979, 1997, and 1999 World Cups; the 1993, 1997, 2002, and 2004 Junior World Championships; and the 1979, 1983, 1987, 1999, and 2003 Pan American Games. She served as Chief Referee at the 1986 and 1991 World Championships; the 1985, 1987, 1989, and 1991 World Cups; and the 1989 and 1991 Junior World Championships. She was the competition manager at the 1995 World Cup and was the U.S. Chef de Mission at the 1982 World Championships.