Six Days to Swim: Jeff Farrell Relives 1960 Emergency Appendectomy, Olympic Trials Experience in His Own Words (Part 2)

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. Part two of the three-part series highlights the race to get back to form in time to swim at the Olympic Trials.

The day after the operation, I noticed Bob whispering to my doctor. When I asked what they had been talking about, he said, “I told the doctor you're in magnificent physical condition and asked if you could try some post-operative physical therapy. You could start in the physical therapy room down the hall this afternoon. And there's a pool in the hospital basement. You could go there tomorrow if you want. You might as well try to stay in shape; you've got nothing else to do here.”

Since Bob encouraged me, I agreed, even though I knew I would never make it to Rome. Nevertheless, I did feel that Bob had been rather conspiratorial with the doctor. Did he think that I might actually be able to recover in time to swim in the Trials, now only five days away?

Another thing that encouraged me was the tone of some of the telegrams I received, implying I might recover fast enough to compete in the Trials. Like this one:

JEFF: WE'RE ALL THINKING ABOUT YOU AND HOPING FOR A WORLD RECORD RECOVERY IF ANYONE CAN MAKE IT YOU'RE THE ONE….ARLIE SCHARDT AND THE SPORTS ILLUSTRATED STAFF

That afternoon I did some light exercises to test my tender abdominal muscles. These exercises — and walking — were painful. So was swimming, if you could call it that. The next day, in the small basement pool, with Bob and the doctor supervising, I eased into the water, my stitches sprayed with plastic and my waist heavily taped. I walked in the shallow end, then floated, gingerly moving my arms. I was unable to kick because of the strain on my abdominal muscles. I was also a bit afraid.

Eventually I could dog paddle, but the effort tired me, and the stabs of pain worried me. I was a long way from winning a place on the Olympic team, and my disappointment was barely eased by Bob's optimism: “We have almost a week before the 200 freestyle prelims. You can expect a great deal of improvement between now and then.”

When I finished the last hospital workout, on the eve of the Trials, I asked Bob about entering the 100-meter race. Had it taken place that day, I would have had no hope. But, considering my daily improvement, Bob did not rule out the 100. He said, “In the morning, before the first heat, let's do a 50-meter time trial, to see how your speed is. Then we'll decide.”

The next morning I checked out of the hospital and went to the pool. After a few warm-up lengths, at a discreet signal from Bob, I gently dove in and swam a 50-meter sprint. Bob's wide grin when he showed me the watch told me I had not lost much speed. The turning point was reached: we decided to keep me in the 100.

Click here to read Part One.

Tomorrow: Farrell races for at least a relay spot.

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