Early in Szekely’s competitive days she met Dezso Gyarmati, an extraordinary water polo player who helped Hungary win five Olympic medals, including gold, at the 1952, ’56 and ’64 Games. They married in 1950 and had a daughter, Andrea Gyarmati, in 1954.
At the 1952 Olympics, Szekely set an Olympic record in the 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:51.7 as part of a dominant Hungarian women’s swim team, which won gold in four out of five events.
Before they left for the 1956 Games in Melbourne, an anti-Communist revolt, quickly quelled by the Kremlin, roiled Hungary and prevented athletes from training in the last weeks before the competition.
Once in Australia, Szekely and Gyarmati, an outspoken supporter of the uprising, were racked with anxiety, having left their daughter behind in Hungary. Szekely reportedly lost more than 10 pounds during the Games. Still, she managed to win silver in the 200-meter breaststroke, becoming the only member of the once-formidable Hungarian women’s team to earn a medal at Melbourne.
Many Hungarian athletes opted to remain in Australia or defect to other countries once they learned that the Soviets had prevailed back home, but Szekely and Gyarmati returned to their daughter. They defected to the United States after a visit to Vienna in 1957, but soon returned to Hungary to care for Szekely’s aging parents.
Szekely retired from competition not long after the 1956 Olympics and became a pharmacist and swimming coach. One of her most successful students was her daughter, Andrea, who went on to an Olympic swimming career of her own, winning a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke and a bronze in the 100-meter butterfly at the 1972 Games in Munich.
Szekely accompanied her daughter to Munich, where she met a member of Israel’s Olympic delegation shortly before Palestinian terrorists killed him, 10 other Israeli athletes and coaches, and a West German police officer.