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Senior Swimmer, Hurt In Car Wreck, Still Strikes Gold

Wed., Aug. 28, 1996

Wheaties missed a golden opportunity to score with the older generation by ignoring Coeur d’Alene’s Elizabeth Keen.

Tall, slim Elizabeth, who’s 69, swam to three golds and two silvers at Idaho’s Senior Games a few weeks ago.

“I didn’t expect to win anything,” she says, shyly eyeing the five palm-sized medals on her daughter’s coffee table. “I was just really looking forward to getting back into it.”

Elizabeth was the only competitor from North Idaho and one of only seven female swimmers at the games. But the lack of competition doesn’t dim the shine on her medals one bit.

“I’m just competing against myself - and it’s good therapy for me,” she says.

Elizabeth doubted she would ever swim again after a car accident two years ago. She broke her right foot, four ribs, right shoulder and back in two places.

“It was stupid,” she says, with an impatient sigh. She’d overcorrected after hitting soft dirt and rolled her Jeep.

Elizabeth had taught swimming, coached synchronized swimmers and managed pools since 1947. But she didn’t start racing until she retired to New Mexico in 1986.

The Senior Olympics tantalized her. She wanted to participate so she began working out at a pool 65 miles from home. The drive soon stretched to 90 miles after she found a good coach in Albuquerque.

“He’d stand on deck and imitate my slow strokes and yell, ‘Here’s Elizabeth,” she says, laughing. “I’d get furious.”

But she grew faster. She sprinted to gold at senior games in three states before she rolled the Jeep.

Recuperation took six endless months. Her first time back in the pool, her stiff right foot counteracted her kicking left foot. She went nowhere. She couldn’t lift her right arm out of the water. She couldn’t believe what she couldn’t do.

The 1995 senior games in New Mexico were out for her. But she vowed to make her broken body work by the 1996 games. Her body cooperated somewhat, but living alone was difficult. By this summer, she’d decided to move near her daughter in Coeur d’Alene.

The move knocked Elizabeth out of New Mexico’s 1996 games, but she arrived in Coeur d’Alene a week before Idaho’s games. She unpacked and headed straight to Boise.

She swam hesitantly and slower than in past meets. But she returned to her new home loaded with gold, silver, confidence and goals.

“I want to participate every year,” she says. “I feel so lucky I can swim.”

Laugh it up

The kids who made us laugh until we cried 10 years ago at Lake City Playhouse are all grown up now and earning money from their talent. But success hasn’t completely gone to their heads.

They’ve returned for two special shows this week to help raise money for Coeur d’Alene’s struggling community theater. This group packs comedy sketches, stand-up performances, musical numbers, improvisation, videos and constant laughs into its shows.

Comic Anthony Nelson swears there will be no sequels to this reunion. Tickets are $6. The shows start at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 667-1323 for reservations.

Summer sadness

The toughest time of the year for me is the end of summer - not the technical end but the day school starts. North Idaho College started this week and, already, life seems more serious. People on the streets look more purposeful than aimless. Playtime is just about over.

On the good side, tourist traffic should lighten. What does a summer person do in North Idaho in the fall? Ride bikes through the leaves? Dig out warmer clothes?

What’s your favorite fall event in the Panhandle? Use it to cheer up Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814; fax to 765-7149; or call 765-7128.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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