Passages: Mary Moorman Ryan Caldwell, U.S. Record Holder, 98

Photo Courtesy: Chandler Brandes

Passages: Mary Moorman Ryan Caldwell, U.S. Record Holder, 98

Mary Moorman Ryan Caldwell, a U.S. record holder and Olympic hopeful in the 1940s, died on June 8. She was 98 years old.

The native of Louisville swam at Lakeside Swim Club in her youth and was a national junior champion at age 11. She won a national championship in the mile in 1940 at age 15.

Ryan won national titles in American record times in the 440-yard, 880-yard and mile swim at the 1940 National AAU Outdoor Championships in Portland, Oregon. She and Lakeside teammate Ann Hardin Grimes did enough at that meet to qualify for the 1940 Olympic swim team, though those Games in Helsinki had been cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. They are believed to have been the first Kentucky natives to be named to any U.S. Olympic team, though they have fought since for recognition of that honor. Ryan was 15 at the time, Hardin 16. (Hardin Grimes passed away in 2014.)

Both swimmers are listed, in the American Olympic Committee’s 1940 annual report as members of the “theoretical 1940 American Olympic Team.”

Ryan chopped 30 seconds off Katherine Rawls’ record in the mile at the race, going 23:15, while also taking Rawls’ 880 record in 11:26.4. She also downed a five-year-old record in the 440, held by Lenore Kight, by going 5:30.1. (This was around the advent of ultra lightweight swimsuits, a revolution for the day.) Ryan was the individual high scorer at the meet.

Ryan attended Atherton High school and Brenau College. She joined the staff of the Louisville Times as a reporter in 1944, where she met and married Courier-Journal reporter Jim Caldwell. After spending several years raising a family, she returned to journalism in the 1960s.

Ryan Caldwell was a co-founder of the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center in Crescent Hill. She worked for years as a volunteer timer at swim meets, including for her three daughters. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Nashville Dolphins, the Harpeth Hall School’s swimming program or the Mary Moorman Ryan Caldwell, Daughters and Granddaughters Fund at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. She is predeceased by her husband and survived by three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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