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Donna de Varona ’86

Posted On - May 28, 2015


At 13 years of age, Donna de Varona ’86 had a knack for breaking barriers and overcoming obstacles. Barely a teenager, she became the youngest competitor at the 1960 Olympic Games. Just four years later she broke an unprecedented 18 world swimming records and won two Olympic gold medals. By age 17, she was voted Most Outstanding Female Athlete in the world by both the Associated Press and the United Press International.

De Varona retired from competitive sports in 1965. However, this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member decided to use her broad range of skills to pursue other options while continuing to open doors and meet challenges with the strength and stamina that she gained as an Olympic swimmer. In 1965 de Varona became the first female sports broadcaster on network television and in so doing paved the way for future female athletes and journalists.

As an ABC Sports on-air analyst, commentator, host, writer and producer she earned an Emmy Award nomination for Keepers of the Flame, a TV special, and received an Emmy for her story about a Special Olympian. She also won the Gracie Award two consecutive years for her Sporting News Radio show, Donna de Varona on Sports.

De Varona is a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation and the organization’s first president; she served four terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and was a moving force in Congress’ passage of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act and the landmark Title IX legislation. De Varona recently served on the President’s Commission on Title IX and was appointed to the U.S. Congressional Commission on the restructuring of the United States Olympic Committee.

Some of the many honors bestowed on de Varona include the International Swimming Hall of Fame Gold Medallion; the Olympia Award for her contribution to the Olympic Movement; the Olympic Order, which is the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee; the National Collegiate Athletic Association Theodore Roosevelt Award; the Albert Schoenfeld Journalism Award; the Arthur Ashe Legacy In Motion award; and most recently she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at Seneca Falls, N.Y.