Bucha family’s life has been a real marathon
Updated: March 29, 2012 4:03PM
Sandra Bucha knows all about earaches, sore throats, bloodshot eyes, aching muscles and fatigue. Swimmers get them all.
“Our hair, too,” Bucha laughingly added. “It’s always wet.”
Ear swabs, eyedrops, throat lozenges and ice packs were worth it for Bucha, a 1972 Hinsdale Central graduate who not only is considered one of the world’s greatest female marathon swimmers ever, but was instrumental in Illinois girls gaining equal sports opportunities with boys in a state Supreme Court victory over the Illinois High School Association that’s known today as Title IX.
Her father, the-late Army Col. Paul Bucha, filed the case on behalf of Sandra, who now practices law with husband John Kerscher in three states, and Central diver Cindy Cilyo (also Class of ’72).
“(Sandra’s) actions as a social justice advocate affected the opportunities of thousands of girls to participate in swimming and other sports,” former Women’s Sports Foundation president Donna Lopiano wrote. “Her career as a champion athlete and record as a conscientious citizen have been exemplary.”
The fun started more than 40 years ago when legendary Hinsdale Central coach Don Watson felt so strongly about Sandra’s potential in his summer McDonald’s Hinsdale Swim Club age-group program that he let her practice with the boys in high school.
“I asked a lot of her, but she was up to it,” said Watson, who has submitted Bucha’s name for Hinsdale Central High School Foundation Hall of Fame consideration and feels she’s a top candidate for the prestigious International Hall of Fame in 2013. “The guys enjoyed having her around. They looked out for her.”
One of the guys was John Kinsella (Class of 1970), who turned to marathons after earning swimming medals in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. Kinsella and Bucha became marathon partners, including a one-two 1975 finish in the 24 Heures La Tuque event in Canada in 52-degree water.
The Canadian press was impressed.
“Crowds lined the banks to cheer on the fetching Miss Bucha, who out-swims most of the men,” a journalist wrote.
Another called Bucha “the Mighty American Female Dynamo.”
Swimming World Magazine featured Sandra on a cover, describing her as “ever -smiling, hard-working.”
Sandra Bucha’s life reflects the positive, loving discipline of parents Paul and Mary Bucha.
Col. Bucha served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines, during World War II and worked elbow-to-elbow with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in planning the 1944 invasion of Normandy, France. He died in Hinsdale at 73 and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Col. Bucha was an amazing man,” Watson said. “He was firm, but fair with high moral values and a positive outlook on life. He helped us immensely by negotiating a five-year financial contract with McDonald’s Corp. for our age-group club.”
Mary Bucha kept son Paul W. “Bud” Bucha and daughters Sandra, MaryAnn and Judy focused on their school work while helping disadvantaged elementary-school pupils to read.
Bud Bucha earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palms for actions in the Vietnam War.
“My brother is my hero,” Sandra said. “You’ll never hear him talk about what happened over there. I’m so proud of him. He even rowed alongside of me in marathons, feeding me peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.”
Sandra Bucha describes her life as being “very, very happy. I had a great swimming coach (Watson), I’ve got a great husband and we have a nice home (in Apollo Beach, Fla.).”
And, yes, she still swims. She has a wet head to prove it.