Swimmer Spotlight – Margaret Toppel 1


Margaret Toppel

Age: 69
Occupation: CEO of Financial Fitness Association, an online financial education site which focuses on the underserved community
Local Team: MAC (Multnomah Athletic Club, Portland)

Margaret Toppel

Margaret Toppel

I can recall watching Wilma Rudolph running in the 1960 Olympics and feeling so inspired by her.  Not only did she win three gold medals, qualifying her as “the fastest woman in the world,” but she had overcome infantile paralysis caused by Polio to get there.  Her story resonated with me because I experienced a similar obstacle in my childhood.  Doctors said that I would never walk normally because I was born with clubfeet that left me in casts for nearly two years when I was a very young child.  It was assumed that being an athlete was out of the question in my future.  Watching Wilma encouraged me so much that I set my sights on becoming an Olympic swimmer.  I wanted to believe that if she could defy the odds, I could too.  Little did I know, that only four years later, that dream would come true!

As a child I lived in both Germany and the United States, but when I was in middle school, my family moved to Puerto Rico.  I swam in my first swim meet when I was just under 14 years old.  I loved it and I was hooked!  Puerto Rico allows athletes to participate on their Olympic team as long as they have lived in Puerto Rico for at least three years.  At age 16, I was eligible to be considered for the Olympic team.  I pushed myself to meet the qualifying time and I did it. I swam the 100 meter butterfly in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for the Puerto Rican team, which was an unforgettable experience.

When I moved back to the United States, I was eager to pursue the opportunity to swim in the next Olympics.  Yet, the President of the International Olympic committee ruled that I would be unable to compete internationally for the U.S. until five years passed because I had competed for Puerto Rico.  I then began swimming at Indiana University, where I was attending college, because collegiate competition was not prohibited.  Since there was no women’s team at Indiana University at the time, I initially worked out with the men’s team and was involved in creating a women’s swim team.  I competed throughout college with a wonderful group of women.

After college, my swimming was off and on.  I worked as a Physical Education teacher for more than a decade.  I also spent many years working for Hewlett Packard in business development.  In our 30s and 40s, my husband and I relocated multiple times, internationally, with time spent in Hong Kong, Australia, Mexico, Switzerland, and Korea over the course of about 15 years.  Our son, John, was born in Hong Kong.  While living in Australia, I swam in the World Masters Championships with my Melbourne team.  After returning to the U.S., I also did some swimming in the Bay Area and swam for Arizona (where we were living at the time) in the Summer U.S. Masters Long Course Nationals, which were held in Oregon in 2016.

In 2017, my husband and I relocated, for the final time, to Portland to be closer to our son and his family.  I joined the MAC masters team and have enjoyed getting back into swimming and meeting many wonderful swimmers in Oregon.  I also enjoy getting in some pool time with my granddaughters who are 5 and 3!


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One thought on “Swimmer Spotlight – Margaret Toppel

  • Lauren Binder

    Margaret, you are a great inspiration and I am very lucky to swim with you (in the other lane) during the noon practices. You have always been there to advise me and make swimming fun! Good luck at spring Nationals. You’ll be back in your college stomming grounds! Best to you, Lauren Binder