CHURUBUSCO — As Sharon Jones, 60, of Churubusco prepares for another season of driving the bus that will take youngsters to elementary school in Arcola, she can’t help but keep tabs on the swimming results coming out of London.
As she joins husband Dave with the day-to-day operation of the couple’s flower, plant and vegetable shop in Churubusco; her mind harkens back 44 years to Mexico City when the smell of chlorine was sharp in her nostrils and she made two trips — not to the living room to watch coverage of Olympic swimming, but to the podium to receive gold and bronze medals for the breast stroke.
“I enjoy watching the swimming events,” Jones said. “They have so much better technology and cameras today. It’s fun seeing my events and remembering what it was like back then.”
On Sunday, Jones will be speaking about her Olympic experiences and how it helps in her life today. Pastor Paul White of the Churubusco Church of the Nazarene asked Jones to tell of her experiences to coincide with his sermon entitled “The Christian Athlete.”
When Jones won the gold and bronze medals, she was only 16 years old. Her given name was Sharon Wichman, and she lived in Fort Wayne with her sister and two older brothers and parents.
“I have always loved swimming. My two older brothers (Russell and Michael) were very good swimmers and were fairly well-known for their outstanding skills,” said Jones.
Jones became serious about swimming at the tender age of 12 and joined a winter league.
“I won a lot of races back then and I lost a lot of races as well,” said Jones.
It was in the locker room of the nationals where she first heard about the Olympics.
“The Olympics weren’t talked about like they are today. I never dreamed that I could go to the world stage and compete. But I heard the older girls (including Judy Humbarger) talk about their experiences at the Olympics, and I wanted to go. So I made the decision right then and there that I was going for the gold. I worked very hard at it for the next few years,” said Jones.
She wanted to get Coach Steven Hunyadfi’s attention so she began swimming slower.
“I got his attention alright and he never stopped coaching me. He was great,” she said.
She spent a great deal of her training at the former Club Olympia in Fort Wayne.
Upon making the 1968 United States Swimming team she and the others trained in Colorado Springs with coaches Sherm Schavoor and Frank Elm.
“We trained for four weeks in the high altitude. It’s a real disadvantage to train without it,” said Jones.
That was hard for Jones as she didn’t see her family for six weeks.
But there was another advantage looming.
Her father had just secured a job in Mexico so the family was able to drive there and watch Jones compete.
In 1968, she received the Bronze Medal in the 100 Meter Breast Stroke. Her time was 1:16.1.
Djurdica Bjedov of Yugaloslavia won the Gold with a time of 1:15.8. The Silver Medal was won by Galina Stepanova-Prozumenshchykova of the Soviet Union.
“It was so strange. There was five of us in a room after that race. Officials knew who had won the gold medal but it was the rest of the placings that they had to sort out,” she said.
Jones is quick to point out the Olympics didn’t have all of the modern technology and cameras they do today in the pools.
Another American swimmer, Mark Spitz, was getting success in Mexico too. Jones was surprised when he came up to her and said hi to her.
“I asked Mark how he knew my name. He told me that Katie Ball told him about me. I competed against her and she won Nationals in Oklahoma. I ended up in the middle of that competition. So I was really surprised when Mark knew me,” said Jones.
Later that year, Jones and Spitz, along with 10 other swimmers traveled to Germany together.
Then it was on to the 200 Meter Breast Stroke where Jones won gold swimming with a time of 2:44.4. Ironically the two swimmers who beat Jones in the 100 Meter race received second and third behind her in the 200 Meter.
Jones held the record for the 200 Meter race until 2004 when American Amanda Beard beat her time with 2:23.37 in Greece.
“She held that record for 36 years and NBC never even mentioned it. But we know,” said Dave Jones.
That was the very year that little known 14-year-old Michael Phelps was on his way to becoming the most decorated Olympic Swimmer of all time.
“Michael is amazing. He has a natural swimmer’s body. But I am also amazed by Missy Franklin,” said Jones.
“When I was in the Olympics I was this shy and quiet skinny kid from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Missy could be Miss America as far as I’m concerned. She is a natural athlete and she is so outgoing. I really enjoy watching her succeed.”
Today Jones just swims for fun and teaching lessons to her family. She and Dave work 16 hours per day at their nursery.
“Both of my sons and their wives live in Fort Wayne,” said Jones.
“I have taught all of my grandchildren to swim. That’s the best thing. I even helped my daughter-in-law to swim. She wanted to learn the breast stroke right away but she had to learn the basics first,” said Jones.
“Three of my grandchildren are on year-round swim teams and one of them has a very natural swimmer’s body. I’m excited about their future in swimming,” she said.
Her mantra is working hard, whether it is teaching her family to swim or working in the nursery or driving school bus … it’s clear that Jones still has the heart of an Olympian.