1940 Olympic Games Qualifier Mary Ryan Caldwell Dies at 98

by Willem Stoll 3

July 20th, 2023 News

Born in 1924, Ryan Caldwell began swimming at age 4 for the Lakeside Swim Team in Louisville, KY, where she would go on to win a national junior title – aged 11.

When she was 15, Ryan Caldwell dominated the distance events at the 1940 AAU National Championships in Portland, OR. She set American records in the now-discontinued 440-yard freestyle (5:30.10), 880-yard freestyle (11:26.40), and 1760-yard (23:15.10) races. She was also the high scorer of the meet and was given impromptu titles including the “Queen of Distance Swimming” and “Mermaid Ryan.”

Her performances qualified her for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo; however, the event was canceled due to the onset of World War II. However, She is recognized as part of the Olympic Team by the United States Olympic Committee report in 1940. It is also believed that Ryan Caldwell and teammate Ann Hardin Grimes were the first two U.S. Olympic Team representatives from Kentucky. The Olympics was further suspended until 1948, which robbed Ryan Caldwell of another opportunity to compete for a spot in the Games.

Following her graduation from Atherton High School, Ryan Caldwell would go on to attend Brenau College (now University), and then began work as a reporter for the Louisville Times in 1944, where she met her husband, Jim Caldwell.

For the next 20 years, Ryan Caldwell would work as a writer, however, she never quite left the water, as she often timed local swim meets, and would eventually co-found the Mary T. Meagher Aquatics Center in Crescent Hill, KY. She also started the Mary Moorman Ryan Caldwell Daughters, and Granddaughters Fund through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee in 2018.

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4 months ago

Sad to think about all the athletes who lost their chance to star in the 1940 Tokyo (& then Helsinki) Games.

Even sadder to think about those who also lost their lives between 1939 & 45.

4 months ago

Sounds like a sweet person – RIP

pete kennedy
4 months ago

I wish this information had been available to me when I was hired as a Professor at Brenau College with a promise that I could start a swim team. Pete Kennedy