From left, Carol Brown ’75, Deb Deffaa ’76, Cece Herron Waters ’74, Patricia Freeman ’77, Jane Fremon ’75.
The idea of swimming several miles every day for nearly a week was daunting

Paddling around the warm Aegean Sea last October, five alums could not help thinking back on cold mornings in the Dillon Gym pool. 

Nearly half a century ago, Cece Herron Waters ’74, Carol Brown ’75, Jane Fremon ’75, Deb Deffaa ’76, and Patricia Freeman ’77 were pioneers on some of Princeton’s first women’s swimming and diving teams. Now, they are retirees and grandmothers, at least one of them coming off a hip replacement, but still friends — and still game for two-a-day practices. “We still connect on so many levels,” Waters says.

The trip to Greece had been under discussion for some time, explains Waters, who wrote an account published earlier this year on the website. They had connections from their undergraduate days but had seen each other little since then. An invitation to return to campus in 2018, when Princeton hosted the Ivy League swimming and diving championships, enabled several of the group to reconnect, but the idea of a destination swim trip took on greater urgency three years later when their friend and ex-teammate, Liz Osborn ’76, died suddenly. “I had such a great conversation with Liz at reunions and thought, ‘We need to continue this,’” Deffaa noted in Waters’ essay. “Then she was gone.”

In November 2021, Brown emailed an invitation to 10 swimmers and divers from those early Princeton teams, and the five ultimately accepted. The trip, Waters wrote later, “provided a framework to reconnect with teammates we had put down roots with 50 years ago. To embrace new challenges — physical and mental — that most of us had never even dreamed about. And to successfully stare down the cruel impositions of age, lack of mobility, and doubt.”

Still, the idea of swimming several miles every day for nearly a week was daunting to women in their late 60s and early 70s. Fremon was recovering from a hip replacement, Deffaa was unable to practice due to a finger injury, and ex-divers Waters and Freeman weren’t used to long distance swims at all. “I don’t do horizontal in the water, only vertical,” Freeman told Waters in the online story.  

The group could, however, look back on many athletic achievements as undergraduates. In 1971, Fremon and Waters entered the Eastern Scholastic Swim League championships and helped Princeton finish in fifth place. The following season, 1971-72, women’s swimming and diving achieved varsity status and Brown, Fremon, and Waters led the team to an 8-0 record. In 1976-77, Freeman captained the first Princeton women’s swimming and diving team to win the Ivy League title. Brown, Fremon, Waters, and Freeman all won numerous All-America honors during their undergraduate years. Brown was also an Olympic rower, winning a bronze medal in 1976.

Ultimately, a group of 15 — the five Princetonians, seven friends, and three other women — rendezvoused on the island of Symi on Oct. 8 for an excursion led by a company that organizes open-water swim tours. On the first morning, they divided into groups based on pace (“We set appropriate expectations; it wasn’t competitive,” Waters explains to PAW in an interview), and for the next six days swam around parts of the island once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Each evening, they would get together to sample local restaurants. “[T]wo swims a day earned us all the tzatziki, pita, souvlaki, gyros, gelatos, wine and ouzo our hearts desired,” Waters wrote.

A second swim trip, Waters says, remains a possibility. “Now we’re like buddies,” she tells PAW. “We still connect on so many levels. It didn’t take long to catch up.”