Ola May "Toni" Redfern
She was all the sensation in Pelham when, as a diver, she was discovered for her swimming speed in getting out of the water. After a few months of coaching at her first meet in December 1935 at just 16 years old, she swam the 100-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 5 seconds, a time that came close to the then world record of 1 minute. In early 1936, she won the interscholastic championship, representing Pelham Memorial High School in the 100 meter. Then on June 20, 1936, she set a new world record for the 50 meter (31 seconds) in an exhibition meet for the Olympic benefit fund.*
Her meteoric rise continued and, just a year after starting to swim competitively, she was at the Olympic trials in July, 1936. Toni won her first race in the 100-meter free-style, but took ill right before the semi-finals. She swam against the advice of her coach and finished second, failing to make the Olympic team.**
There was every hope and expectation that Toni would persevere toward the next Olympics, but between the discouragement of ominous signs of war and the distractions of college at the University of Texas, her swimming slipped away. With the outbreak of WW II, there would be no 1940 Olympics. She married in 1940 and gave birth to her first child in 1942.
Her obituary in 2001 made a passing reference that "she won several accolades" in swimming "in her younger years," noted that she had retired as a secretary at Marathon Oil and that she "enjoyed needlepoint and reading."***
* Pelham Sun, July 2, 1936, p. 5
** Pelham Sun, July 17, 1936, p. 6.
*** Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), September 18, 2001, p. 13