by Barrett Seaman
Silicon Valley of the 1970s produced renowned Olympians like Mark Spitz. It was also home to Susan Rutkowitz, who started swimming competitively at age eight but quit when she was just 13.
For 35 years, during which she came of age, married, raised two sons and started a business, she didn’t give swimming much thought. She exercised regularly, even ran a marathon.
“I kept active,” she said, “but not in a pool.”
Four years ago, the Irvington resident, now Susan Tokayer, found herself glued to the television, watching swimming events in the 2012 London Olympics and feeling herself drawn back to the water. “I always felt like I still had it,” she recalls. She started to train and managed to connect with SUNY Purchase swim coach Peter Nestle. When she got back in the pool, she said, “I came in swimming like it was 1970, but the technique had changed dramatically.”
With Nestle’s encouragement and laser focus on learning new techniques, Tokayer began to whittle away at her times—especially in the 100-yard butterfly, her specialty. By the fall of 2014, the hard work began to pay off: her times began to drop and she started searching for someplace to compete—with folks her own age. She Googled “Masters Swimming” (for athletes over 50) and took steps to enter regional competitions.
In March 2015, after she turned 55, on the young end of the 55-59-age bracket, Tokayer entered the New England Masters, held at Harvard University, where she swam against peers from 10 states. She did well, but that was only the beginning: That year, she set seven Metro New York records: the 50- and 100-meter butterfly, the 50-yard freestyle, the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, the 200-yard butterfly and the 100-yard individual medley.
In March of this year, she returned to Harvard, where she broke the meet record in the100-meter fly with a time of 1:10.3. Then just a month ago at the National Masters’ meet in Greensborough NC, Tokayer, now 56, posted a time of 1:08.9 in the event, missing winning her age group by a mere two tenths of a second.
To maintain her top form, Tokayer trains six days-a-week—four mornings swimming at SUNY Purchase, followed alternately by cross-training or weight training at the New York Sports Club along the Saw Mill River Parkway, doing Bikram Yoga or Pilates on other days. She is also now an assistant swim coach at Purchase. When she’s not training or competing or coaching, she runs Family Helpers, a full-service provider of nannies, housekeepers and adult companions, out of an office in Dobbs Ferry.
Rising at 5 a.m., she occasionally passes (almost literally) her husband, Doug, in the night: he is a medical billing and collections consultant by day but plays guitar for some local bands on gigs that sometimes run quite late. Their two sons, now 33 and 29, live in the Tampa, FL area.