Fall 2023 Home

Familiar Waters

Sixty years ago, Georgia McDaniel pioneered Pitt’s first women’s swim team. She hasn’t stayed out of the water since.
Photography by
Lorraine Matti

On a now-yellowed page of the Dec. 14, 1964, edition of the Pitt News — above the headline “Girls Show New Team” — is a photograph of nine smiling students, lined up on a diving board and clad in color-blocked swimsuits.

Georgia Eberhart stands third from right with straight shoulders and sun-washed hair. At the time this photo was taken, she was an 18-year-old who had spent summers at her neighborhood swimming pool and the previous four years competing with a local swim club. So, when she first arrived at Pitt and saw the Olympic-sized pool in Trees Hall Fitness Center, she was captivated. The only problem: the University didn’t have a swim team for women.

So, she gathered a group of friends and, together, they pleaded with the head of the physical education program. A few months later, the students had exactly what they wanted and formed Pitt’s first women’s swim team.

Eberhart stands with her arm around her grandsonIn July 2023, for the first time in nearly 50 years, the co-founder and co-captain of the historic team captured in that photograph returned to compete in Trees Hall pool once again — this time in the National Senior Games. No longer a starry-eyed college student, today she is Georgia McDaniel (EDUC ’68, ’73G), a 77-year-old mother and grandmother, and one of the most accomplished swimmers of her age in the country.

“The idea is to wait everybody out,” McDaniel says with a chuckle. “The older you get, people start quitting and you’re the only one left in your age group.”

The record books tell a different story. In her 352 U.S. Masters Swimming races since 2009, she’s placed in the top ten 163 times. Last year, in the 75-79 age bracket, she swam the top time in the nation in both the 1000 freestyle and the 200 individual medley.  And in this year’s Senior Games, she placed first in three of the six races in which she competed.

“Her dedication to the sport and her impact are tremendous,” says Tina Hasselberg Keisling.

McDaniel, who studied education at Pitt, was Keisling’s gym teacher and swim coach at Bethel Park High School back in the ’70s. The team, Keisling says, was in awe of their confident young coach. Not only had McDaniel championed women’s sports in the pre-Title IX era, but she also advocated for her students as they graduated to their own collegiate careers. Keisling credits McDaniel with helping her secure a collegiate swimming scholarship in 1975 — the first year they were available to women.

McDaniel balks at the suggestion that she is a pioneer in women’s sports at Pitt, just as she shrugs off her achievements in the pool. She’d rather talk about her recent feats, like a trip to Hawaii, when she hiked 4.5 miles through the mountains and swam in open water with Galapagos sharks.

Helping to found he women’s swim team? That was so long ago.

“I was only 18,” she says. “Who thinks about that stuff at 18? I just wanted to swim in that big, beautiful pool.”

This story was published July 25, 2023. It is part of Pitt Magazine's fall 2023 edition.