On day two of the UANA Pan American Masters Championships, held in Medellin, Colombia in late July, everyone in attendance turned their attention to the 80 & Over Heat of the Women’s 400 IM. Brazilian champion swimmer Nora Tausz Ronai had entered one of the toughest competitions in swimming at the age of 98.
Every spin she made at the front of the competition pool was rewarded with thunderous applause from the crowd. After finishing the race, she got out of the pool and joined her daughter, Brazilian journalist Cora Ronai.
When medical staff offered her a wheelchair, she waved her hand vehemently and took more steps alongside her daughter, according to El Colombiano. From Nora’s 23 minutes 400 IM to the minutes after leaving the competition area, she accepted life’s struggles with dignity and grace.
The 400 IM started Nora’s busy and intense swim weekend. She returned to the pool in the same session to ride the 50 Fly. In subsequent sessions, she competed in the women’s 50m free, 100m and 200m fly, 200m medley and free relay, and mixed 200m medley and free relay.
The story of Nora Tausz Ronai, documented in a recent Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) article, is certainly remarkable.
Nora’s swimming experience does not start in her childhood but at the age of 69 when her husband Paulo Ronai died. Nora currently holds eight Masters swimming world records in the Fly and IM events. She has amassed 13 gold medals at the World Masters Championships and has broken 12 world records.
Although her athletic career began late in life, Nora’s history of perseverance stretches back to the age of 11. Living in what was then Fiume (now Rijeka, a port city in Croatia), Nora and her family experienced many hardships due to fascism.
Her father, Edoardo Tausz, was president of a Hungarian insurance agency. In 1935, Edoardo lost his job after the Hungarian government banned foreigners from working in high-ranking positions.
The life of the Tausz family changed rapidly in the late 1930s. The Italian government enacted the racial laws in 1938, which discriminated against Italy’s Jews. Nora and her brother Giorgio were no longer allowed to go to school.
When Italy entered World War II in 1940, the Prefect of Fiume ordered the arrest of all Jewish men. Her father and brother were taken to the Torretta detention center.
While Edoardo was identified as a Jew in his papers, he converted to Catholicism years ago. His conversion aided his family’s escape route to seek asylum in Brazil. The Vatican provided 3,000 visas to Brazil for Jewish converts, and the Tausz family bought the visas with the help of Nora’s aunt Valeria.
The Tausz family came to Rio de Janeiro in 1941 when Nora was 17 years old. From that moment on she made a good living in Brazil. Nora married Paulo in 1952 and the couple stayed together until Paulo died in 1992. The couple raised two daughters, Cora and Laura, the conductor of the Rio de Janeiro Baroque Orchestra.
Before committing to her competitive swimming career, Nora was an architect, professor and author of three books, one of which tells her life story.
She now swims 1,600 meters a day and finds immense calm while swimming.
“The pool saves me from a lot of depressing situations,” Nora told JTA. “Some situations drive you crazy. He who swims does not cry.”