Remembering Peter Jurczyk
Competition was his way of life
Gold-medal swimmer goes extra mile, 50 Plus Lifestyles, July 1997
Peter Jurczyk, at 91, may be hard of hearing and may have faulty vision, but put him in a swimming pool and look out! This senior dynamo works out with the Masters swimmers in the Indian River Community College swimming pool three to four times a week and swims a mile just about every time he gets in the water. In competitions he wins in just about every event he enters and usually sets a new record.
"I'm in awe every time I see him come on the pool deck," said Tom Harmon, coach of the Masters swimmers at IRCC in St. Lucie County (Florida). "He is an avid competitor and is getting very frustrated because he can't find anyone to swim against in his age bracket." He has beaten swimmers in their 70s and 80s, but he feels the wins don't count because they don't bring him any points. And that's what's important for this aquatic giant, and the coach and his teammates can't convince him otherwise. At recent meets, he won everything he swam, and has added more medals to his collection of at least 300 medals.
He holds nine or ten world records, including the 50 butterfly, 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke, events that are pretty tough for any age.
"I don't know anyone that doesn't get inspired when they see him get out there and swim," Harmon said. Jurczyk has represented IRCC at international meets in Japan, Australia, Hawaii, Canada and most recently in England, from which he returned with four more gold medals. He not only inspires his teammates in these competitions, but the people rooting for other teams leave the stands and surround him to congratulate him every time he has a win.
Harmon refers to him as an ambassador of good will and founder of the IRCC Masters Swimming program. Jurczyk started coaching the Masters swim program in 1979, the same year Edwin R. Massey, President of IRCC, went into his first job in administration at the college. One of Massey's earlier jobs was working with the senior programs that included the senior swimming program. They got to know each other and Massey thinks he is a jewel among people, a tremendous inspiration to everyone that may want to sit down, stop living and stop being challenged. "Peter has refused to do so," Massey said. "He doesn't go out to finish second, I guarantee that. He goes out to bring the medals home and he does that." Massey sometimes affectionately refers to Jurczyk as a Timex man. "Like old commercials, he takes a licking but keeps on ticking," Massey said. "Peter continues to keep on keeping on."
When Jurczyk was 80 years old, the college sent him to Tokyo to compete in the world championships of the Masters program. He swam against 30-odd swimmers, most of them former Olympic swimmers, but he came back from Tokyo as the top backstroker in the world in his age group.
Not an Olympian, Jurczyk came by his talents naturally in the canals, rivers and lakes in Newark, N.J., starting when he was eight years old. He swam most of his life almost always winning meets, especially in the backstroke. When he moved to Fort Pierce after working at Westinghouse for 43 years, he started swimming at the IRCC pool. Then Massey asked him to start a Masters program at the college. He initially coached the team and continues working with coach Harmon as an assistant.
Jurczyk has never competed in a Masters meet without winning at least one medal. "Swimming is my life," he said. "Winning isn't as important to me as breaking world records." And he thinks he may do that a few more times before he's done. Harmon agrees that this is likely: "When they made him, they broke the mold."
Jurczyk, Wilder win gold at World Masters Games, Tribune staff report, July 2, 1996
Sheffield, England—Local Indian River Community College Masters Team swimmers Peter Jurczyk and Anne Wilder competed in the Sixth World Masters Swimming Championships at the Ponds Forge Aquatic Centre in England over the past week, taking a combined eight medals in various events. An estimated 4,650 swimmers, including 319 American swimmers, aged 25 and up from 48 nations around the world participated in the event. Fort Pierce's Jurczyk, 91, swam in the 90-94 division, winning gold medals in the 200-meter individual medley (7:08.31), 200-meter backstroke (5:55.98) and 100-meter backstroke (2:40.66) events.
Competition a way of life for Jurczyk, by Keith Lindsey, The Tribune, July 10, 1991.
Fort Pierce—For swimmer Peter Jurczyk, competition is a way of life. The Indian River Community College Masters swimmer has ten records to his credit and is hungry for more. What's amazing about Jurczyk's success is that he is 85 years old. "When it comes to competition something makes you go," Jurczyk said. "That's why I like the backstroke. I can see when I'm ahead of the other swimmers."
Jurczyk began swimming when he was five years old. He won his first race at age seven and has been in love with the sport ever since. "The Newark Evening News arranged contests in those days for the local kids and I was fortunate enough to win my first race," Jurczyk said.
Jurczyk had to put competitive swimming on hold when he went to work full time. He was hired by Westinghouse Electric in 1926 as a drill press operator and retired from the company 43 years later as a manufacturing engineer. "We used to take what the engineers designed and make them. If they did something that wouldn't work we told them and that increased efficiency," Jurczyk said. "Westinghouse treated me very well."
Jurczyk kept his hand in swimming during his Westinghouse years by working with water rescue squads along the New Jersey shore area. He retired from Westinghouse in 1969 and moved to Florida in 1973. He got back into competitive swimming in 1975 when he became the first member of the IRCC Masters Swim Team.
Peter Jurczyk lived in Fort Pierce, Fla., and swam for IRCC Masters Swim Team. He died on September 27, 1998.