Allen resident still swimming, competing on regular schedule
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
When Larry Mandell talks family, cigars and swimming, his face lights up brighter than his collection of swimming medals — and that’s a lot of shiny!
The leap-year “baby” 82-year-old’s triumphs in the pool are still stacking up as he holds five records in the 75-79 age bracket and three in the 80-84 bracket.
“I work out to stay alive and I love being in the pool — I feel great when I swim and it’s that simple,” said Mandell, who lives in Allen and is still competing and training three times a week at the Don Rodenbaugh Natatorium.
His first memories of his toes in the water are as a 9-year-old at the Jersey Shore. “The water is like a second home — something I can, and hope to, do all my life.”
Born on leap day in 1936, Mandell has sprung through life, every day an “extra,” living to the fullest. With more than 40 medals in the last nine years, his records and gold medals through the Texas Amateur Athletic Foundation (TAAF), in the 75-79 bracket, are for the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle, the 50-yard backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly swim. In the 80-84 range, he’s won three TAAF gold medals in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle competitions. He’s also won nine gold medals in the Dallas Area Senior Games.
The Newark, New Jersey, native has been married to his beloved Sheila for 54 years, the two introduced by Larry’s cousin, poolside, a clue to his future beloved. They are the parents of David (Michelle), Robert (Lynne), and Leslie, of blessed memory, and the grandparents of Daniel, Jason, Tanner, Toby, and Tucker.
His time in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War provided many unique opportunities, including service on the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) in the Mediterranean. Among the treasures Mandell produced over the years is a 1966 photo of Israel, shot by an astronaut. A graduate of NYU with a Bachelor of Science in film, television, and radio production, Mandell was a leader at the Army Pictorial Center, producing training films, research and development, and historical films.
In 1970, the Mandell family moved to El Paso, where for 22 years Larry worked at White Sands Missile Range as the chief of visual information. After retiring as a federal employee with the Department of Defense, Larry began a second career as manager of warehouse and repair of Kurland-Salzman Music.
As a member of El Paso’s Congregation Bnai Zion, Larry was president of its Men’s Club and commander of the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Post No. 749, and commander and first commander of the JWV Department of the Southwest. He was honored with the National Americanism Award by the JWV, an organization he remains a member of through Dallas’ local Post #256. Sheila served on the boards of the congregation’s Sisterhood, B’nai B’rith Women/El Paso, and the Parent Teacher Organization.
Moving to Dallas in 1999 to be closer to their children, Mandell worked for Brook Mays Music, and the couple reunited with many El Paso transplants from their Jewish community. Members of Congregation Anshai Torah since it began, the Mandells relied heavily on the heart and support of Rabbi Stefan Weinberg when their daughter Leslie was critically ill, and after her passing in 1999.
Mandell taught adult swim lessons at the Tom Muehlenbeck Center in West Plano for eight years, something he’d provided to many sailors during his time in the Navy.
Attributing his good health to his continued participation in the sport, early in his athletic career he was a member of the 1952 City Champion Weequahic High School swim team alongside Arieh (Richard) Larkey, still a dear friend. The two are separated by miles, thousands of them, as Larkey, a former architect and author made aliyah in 1971. However, they remain close.
“I have only the best of memories of us as young swimmers — and cherished friends — and returning to the sport to compete in my 60s, now just for pleasure, I still believe it’s the best sport,” said Larkey, who visited with his high school friend when the Mandells traveled to Israel many years ago. Their friendship extended to another generation as the Mandells’ children traveled to Israel, staying at Larkey’s home. “Now, thanks to FaceTime and the two of us ‘entering’ the 21st century, we’re able to relive the wonderful feelings of a lifetime friendship.”
A healthy man by diet and exercise, he enjoys a little more relaxing — very little — than his one-a-day stogie that he “mostly” chews on.
“Next to my family, my proud moments are when I win. I train hard for fun and for my health,” said Mandell, who in 2000 had two stents placed after a heart attack. “I changed how I eat, how I exercise, and how I live. There’s nothing I take for granted.” He’s planning to race again later this year.
Setting the example high for his family, Mandell’s lessons aren’t lost on those on the lower branches of his family tree. “He’s amazing and I hope I live the way he does,” said grandson Jason. “Most grandfathers have good advice and stories to tell. He lives every day being healthy and strong and following his own advice. He’s something special and I’m proud of him and glad he’s mine.”
Those words? A shinier prize than any other.