Margaret Hoelzer

Margaret Josephine Hoelzer (1983- ) is a former competitive swimmer from Huntsville, Madison County, who won three Olympic medals at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. She also swam for Team USA at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. During her student years at Auburn University, Hoelzer accrued multiple records and was an accomplished competitor and is considered one of the greatest competitive swimmers in the history of the state. She currently is a spokesperson for abuse survivors and a motivational speaker.

Hoelzer was born on March 30, 1983, to Hans and Elizabeth Warren Hoelzer; she had one sibling, a sister. Her family has a long history of living in the Huntsville area. Her grandfather, Helmut Hoelzer, was a German rocket engineer who was brought to Huntsville as part of Operation Paperclip, the secret program in the United States that used the talents of former Nazi scientists, most notably Wernher von Braun, in rocket research and the space program. (Helmut is credited with developing one of the first electronic analogue computers, which was used to calculate missile flight trajectories.) Her father was an engineer and her mother was a salesperson. Her sister, Martha, ran track for the University of Alabama before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Known as “Marge,” Hoelzer played soccer and softball and also participated in gymnastics and track in her youth. She began swimming competitively at the age of five. In the summer, she swam for the Jones Valley Recreation Association in Huntsville. Around this time, she was sexually abused for two years by a friend’s father and would later speak out publicly about the experience. After graduating as a scholastic All-American and state champion swimmer from Huntsville High School in 2001, Hoelzer enrolled in Auburn University and received an athletic scholarship for the swimming and diving team. Between 2003 and 2005, she won National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in the 200 freestyle (2004 and 2005), the 800 freestyle relay (2003), and the 200 and 400 medley relay (2003 and 2004 and 2003, respectively). Hoelzer finished as an All-American swimmer 22 times. She graduated in four years with a degree in psychology and a minor in criminology. While at Auburn, Hoelzer helped the Auburn women win the NCAA championship in 2002 (its first), 2003, and 2004 and place second in 2005. The team also won Southeastern Conference championships in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

In the 2004 U.S Olympic Trials, Hoelzer qualified to swim the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:11.88. Although she also tried out for the 100-meter backstroke, she did not qualify in that event. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Hoelzer finished fifth in the 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:10.70. In 2007, she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, to work with swimming coach David Marsh, who had coached at Auburn University from 1990-2007 for both men and women and won 12 NCAA national championships. Hoelzer later relocated to Fullerton, California, and trained with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team (FAST).

For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Hoelzer qualified to swim in three events at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She qualified for 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter backstroke, where she ranked 7th and 2nd, respectively, and was a member of the U.S. women’s 4×100-meter medley relay team. On August 12, she earned her first Olympic medal, a bronze, in the 100-meter backstroke behind Zimbabwe swimmer and Auburn alumnus Kristy Leigh Coventry and American Natalie Coughlin, who won gold. Four days later, Hoelzer won a silver medal in the 200-meter backstroke, with a time of 2:06.23. On August 17, Hoelzer was awarded her third Olympic medal when the U.S. team won silver in the 4×100-meter medley relay, although she did not swim in the event. At the end of her swimming career in 2010, Hoelzer had three Olympic medals, world records and American records in the 200-meter backstroke, numerous other accolades in regional events, and had been on the U.S. Women’s National Team for nine years.

After the 2008 Olympics, Hoelzer publicly shared that a friend’s father began abusing her when she was five. Hoelzer used her new public platform to begin an awareness campaign. As one of the first notable athletes in the United States to speak about sexual abuse, Hoelzer became an influential figure in advocacy for abuse survivors, including as a national spokesperson for the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC). Headquartered in Huntsville, the NCAC serves and trains thousands of people to protect children and understand signs of child abuse. Hoelzer also lent her experience and advocacy to Darkness to Light. Like NCAC, Darkness to Light works to empower adults and caregivers to prevent child sexual abuse and offers services and counselors to assist in this mission. In addition, Hoelzer has worked with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit that aims to prevent the sexual abuse of amateur athletes. Serving as a motivational speaker, Hoelzer speaks internationally about her past experiences. She encourages therapy and counseling and providing resources to survivors. She also hosts and provides swim clinics and personalized private swimming lessons for prospective swimmers. In 2023, she was inducted into the Huntsville-Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame.

Further Reading

  • Lohn, John. Historical Dictionary of Competitive Swimming. Lanham, M.D.: Scarecrow Press,     2010.
  • Thomas, Leslie Nicole. Legendary Locals of Huntsville. Charleston: Arcadia, 2015.

External Links

Share this Article

Margaret Hoelzer with Olympic Medals

Photo courtesy of the Huntsville Times. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Photo by Mark Carter.
Margaret Hoelzer with Olympic Medals

Margaret Hoelzer at NCAA Championships

Photo courtesy of Auburn University Athletics
Margaret Hoelzer at NCAA Championships