January 21, 2018

Dorothy Kennedy’s Lifelong Love of Learning

Dorothy Kennedy’s Lifelong Love of Learning

By Marianne Hamilton


In Dorothy Kennedy’s St. George home, wall-space is at a premium. Most surfaces are crowded with the landscapes and portraits Kennedy has been painting since 1980, many of which feature such ancestors as paternal great-great-grandfather William Madison Wall, the founder of Heber Valley, along with LDS pioneers Dixon Hamblin and John Phillips. What little vertical real estate remains is festooned with the formidable collection of medals Kennedy has amassed in her swimming career, where she excels in the 1500-meter freestyle.

The talismans signal a life very well lived. They also serve as daily reminders that it’s never too late for a new beginning: Kennedy didn’t swim her first stroke until the age of 40. Just a few years later she attempted strokes of another kind, when a daughter’s friend convinced Kennedy to pick up a paintbrush for the first time. Now 81, Kennedy has no plans to slow down—or stop her process of lifelong learning.

As a middle school teacher Kennedy was always up for a challenge, whether it was co-directing her students in a Shakespearean play, or becoming proficient at Spanish. In the latter case, Kennedy acquired fluency by attending night classes, spending two summers in Spain, taking flamenco dancing lessons, and hosting a Spanish foreign exchange student. “I’m someone who will always push herself to learn something new,” Kennedy laughs. “One thing always seems to lead to another, and boosts me along my way.”


Such was the case when Kennedy set her sights on swimming. Then 40, she and her family—which includes three sons and three daughters—were living in Mapleton, Utah. Since her girls were on their school’s swim-team, daily water workouts were a must. Kennedy, who’d never had swimming lessons, was ill-prepared to keep up.

“I’d get into the lane next to them and start splashing around, but I’d be completely out of breath so quickly,” Kennedy recalls. “I asked them to teach me how to swim properly. Then it was such a great thing; I caught on fast.”


A scant month later Kennedy was swimming a full mile each morning, a habit she maintained for 16 years. “I kept track of my miles on Red Cross swim cards, which I still have today. That’s where I really learned to love swimming. It’s so healthy and invigorating,” Kennedy says.


These days, Kennedy feeds her addiction with early-morning workouts at Sand Hollow Aquatic Center, where her SUV is often one of the first cars in the parking lot. Kennedy found her way to the facility with a goal of retaining her strength and flexibility following lumbar fusion surgery, to repair an injury that had plagued her since she was an adolescent gymnast.


Says Kennedy, “When I was 12, I hurt myself doing back bends. Then when I had babies, I knew I had back problems, but just ignored them. About 12 years ago, when I got to the point where I’d have to sit on my rear and bump my way down the stairs, and then crawl back up, I knew it was time to get it fixed. That surgery finally gave me my life back…and fortunately my doctor said swimming was the best exercise afterward.”


For the past six years, Kennedy has been a member of the U.S. Masters Swim program at SHAC, coached by former world champion swimmer Lynn Lund. Thanks to Lund’s attention to her technique, Kennedy has racked up scores of gold medals in various state and Senior Games competitions, consistently posting the fastest times in her age group in the 1500-, 200-, 100-, and 50-meter freestyle events. Kennedy typically medals in the 100-meter backstroke as well. Additionally, she holds the #9 ranking in the U.S. in her age-group in One-Hour Postal competition, in which athletes must swim as far as they can in 60 minutes; Kennedy completed 1800 meters, or 1.1 miles.

Given her considerable achievements, Kennedy could be forgiven for having a major dose of ego. But she remains humble and appreciative of her lot in life, preferring to encourage others to choose healthy pursuits. “It’s nice having all of the medals hanging on my wall,” she notes, “but the best thing about all of that is that I can show my family that you can do more. Just dream; you can do it! I’d like to think that I’m setting a good example for my children, who are all in their 60s.”


As Kennedy greets 2018, she hopes other members of the community will consider joining her in the water—or at the gym. “There are so many things you can do in a pool,” she enthuses. “Whether you’re swimming, or doing water aerobics, or just walking, you’re moving and being active, and that’s vital at every age. I work out at the gym on alternate days, then go to the pool on the other days. Anything I can do to keep my body moving is good.”


Summing up her attitude about where her life has taken her, Kennedy adds, “I hope to be an inspiration to people. “I’ve had a very fun ride, for sure. But I still have a long way to go. And I have no plans to stop.”

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