Dr. Jane Katz has taken what some might consider a tragedy and made a career out of it. After a drunk driver caused a car accident in 1979 that left her with several broken bones, she designed her own aquatics program to rehabilitate herself. Subsequently, she wrote several books on water fitness to help others based on her own experience.

“The accident set me back to rethinking aquatics as not just swimming,” says the 61-year-old expert, who was writing her book, Swimming For Total Fitness, at the time of the accident. “It was timely because it taught me patience and water therapy and exercise that is now so popular.”

Currently a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics in New York City, she teaches fitness and swimming to the city’s police and firefighters. She also coaches seniors and women.

Jane Katz grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, before it was considered a posh place to live, with a family of four siblings. “Swimming was the only thing you could do that didn’t cost money,” she says. Her father, who nearly drowned as a teenager, urged his children to learn to swim at the free local park facilities. She began attending swim meets at the age of 6 and started winning national championships in her early teens.

A member of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Performance Team at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Katz also competed in numerous races around the world. She finished first in the Second World Masters Games in Denmark in 1989 for the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1500-meter freestyle, as well as second in the solo and duet and third in the team synchronized swimming championships. In 1994, she won the 400-meter freestyle in the 50 to 54 age group at the Fifth World Masters Championship in Montreal, and placed first in her age group for the women’s solo synchronized swimming competition.

Prior to John Jay College, Katz taught for 25 years at the Bronx Community College and at her old high school. During this time she also wrote several books, including Fitness Works, Water Fitness During Your Pregnancy, The All-American Aquatic Handbook: Your Passport to Lifetime Fitness, and The New Wet Workout.

Today, she swims every day at several pools around the city and for the Empire State Masters. She still trains with her father at the local “Y” as well as teaches. “I never leave without a swimsuit,” she says. “It’s BYOB — Bring Your Own Bathing suit. That’s the reality: You don’t need much to swim in a pool.”