Melissa Ripley still remembers the 1972 Munich Olympics where she won three gold swimming medals at the tender age of 15.
As a sophomore in high school, who had never really been outside of the continental United States, Ripley explained, the experience was more than exciting.
But in 2010, the medals were taken from Ripley’s Tempe home along with $200,000 worth of jewelry and other items in a robbery.
“It was devastating,” said Ripley, 55, who is a swim coach at Rio Salado Swim Center. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Away in Texas for her daughter’s college swim meet that year, the robber had gotten into Ripley’s empty home through a bay window. Her son, Erick, came home to see the window open and called for help.
Since then, Ripley and her husband planned to pay for replacement medals once their two kids finish college. They estimated the originals were worth about $500 each.
Now a swim coach of 30-plus years, also coaching at McClintock High School, Ripley has coached four of her kids to Olympic trials.
Meanwhile, Ahwatukee’s own American Foundation for Cardiomyopathy (AFFC) was working to donate a defibrillator to the Rio Salado Swim Center and, to Ripley’s surprise, to replace the medals.
“It was an equal agreement that we needed to do something for her,” said Mike Middleton, a board member for the AFFC. “She’s given 40 years to her local community through her swimming.”
The AFFC is working in conjunction with AZ Swimming to raise funds for the three medals. Ripley will need to go through a verification process that could take two to four months with the U.S. Olympic Committee. After that, the molds of her 1972 medals will be made and sent out to her.
“It was like a dream come true, it was just incredible,” Ripley said after finding out the news.
Though the replacement medals won’t be exact replicas, the organization and Ripley have high hopes that the smallest of details will be included.
Still, Ripley’s husband gave her a piece of sound advice of her accomplishments, and misfortunes.
“My husband said ‘even though you don’t have your medals, no one can ever take it away from you,’” Ripley said. “It’s in history.”
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