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Profiling Clara Lamore Walker

Honor Masters swimmer in ISHOF

Scott Rabalais | January 9, 2003

Clara Lamore Walker (USA) was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Masters Swimmer in 1995. The following text was included in the program for the induction ceremony of that year:

For the Record: Masters swimmer: (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke); 55-59 age group: 21 world records, 103 national records; 60-64 age group: 103 world records, 210 national records; 65-69 age group: 60 world records, 155 national records; Total: 184 world records, 468 national records; Outstanding Masters Swimmer in age group for eight years; 1948 US Olympic team member; three national championships (breaststroke).

When Clara Lamore climbed out of the pool at the 1948 Olympic Games in London after swimming the 200-meter breaststroke as a member of the United States Women’s Olympic Team, she swore she would never do it again. At 22 she had been swimming ten years and had had enough. After all, she was the winner of three US national championships. She had done it.

It lasted for 33 years, until her doctor recommended she start swimming to relieve the pain from a bad back. She was 54 at the time. She had worked for the telephone company, spent seven years in a cloistered religious order and became the first female graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island. She was married to Doneal Walker, a Naval officer and traveled through Europe with him for seven years until he died unexpectedly in 1970. She then taught school and became a guidance counselor at Western Hills Junior High School. It was then that she got back into the pool—for therapeutic reasons. Wasn't much, just three days a week for a few months. But after she entered her first swim meet, maintaining somewhat the same stroke that Coach Joe Whatmore had taught her years before, she set a US national record in the 50-yard breaststroke in the 50-54 age group. It re-inspired her and re-enthused her to train hard. It was as if all the years away from the water didn't matter. It was as though she were alive again back in the Olneyville Boys Club, her world defined by the borders of the pool.

Once again swimming became everything to Clara. Before she graduated from the 55-59 age group, she had set more than 103 national records. Currently, she holds every world and national record in the 65-69 age group except in the butterfly. And she did the same thing when she was in the 60-64 age group. Her records and her achievements follow her through time.

Clara has been undefeated in competition for over ten years. She has been selected the Outstanding Masters Swimmer in her age group for the past eight years and has been the holder of 184 world records and 468 national records, more than any other Masters swimmer in the world, male or female.

from Swim magazine, 1996:

1948 LONDON

Breaststroke in 1948 was quite different from the breaststroke of today. At that time, the stroke could be swum with either an above or below-water arm recovery. Two women from The Netherlands perfected the "butterfly" version of the breaststroke, thus taking the top two places in the 200 breaststroke in the London Games. Clara Lamore, using the conventional breaststroke, finished in sixth place. Soon thereafter, the butterfly became a stroke of its own and was offered in the 1956 Olympics.

Her swimming performance, though commendable, is not what Walker remembers most vividly. Her memories are of making friends as a member of the U.S. Olympic team. We had lots of fun on the cruise ship, the USS America," she remembers. Aboard the ship were Joe and Rose Kennedy, with children, and other dignitaries and movie stars. She became good friends with Harrison Dillard, gold medalist in the 100-meter dash.

"It was a rough trip," Walker recalls. "The seas were turbulent and we weren't able to use the ship's pool because the officials thought it was too dangerous." Traveling with the track and basketball teams, the athletes spent their seven-day journey socializing and playing games.

"We had a very old team," recalls Walker, who was 22 at the time. "Many of us were holdovers from 1940 and 1944 when the Olympics were canceled due to war." The women swimmers, a small group since only five events were offered, ranged in age from 21 to 27.

The media had not yet caught onto the Olympics as an international spectacle, and there were no bright lights and television cameras. "Paramount News was about it," says Walker, "and they were more interested in the Kennedys. We were just peons."

These days, there is nothing small about the stature of Walker. Last year, she was the first female inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame for accomplishments in Masters swimming. Though the humble Walker would never admit to it, she has paved the way for other Olympians, who continue to swim Masters, to perhaps one day join her in the hall.

Clara Lamour Walker lives in Providence, R.I. and swims for New England Masters

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