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USMS Oral History


Reflections from Earl Walter Jul 19, 2000

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Oregon Masters Losses a Great Person, Athlete and Friend

Collie Wheeler died in Portland on October 14 at the age of 104. His name is still in the record books, and probably will be for some time to come.

My remembrance of him began at an AAU swimming meet at Janzten Beach during the summer of 1938. I had just won my first State Championship, and Collie came up to me saying, "Young man is your father Earl Walter ?"

"Yes Sir, I am Earl Walter Jr." That started a friendship which goes on forever.

Collie was born June 20, 1893, on Portland's east side; he lived his entire life in the city. He was a sailor during WWI before becoming a dentist. He served as dentist aboard ship during WWII. In the Korean War, he was a Navy Captain and headed the reserve dental program from Washington, D.C. He retired from dentistry at the age of 75.

His love for sports came early with weightlifting. Joe Loprenzi, Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC) manager in weight training, called him "the father of weightlifting". Collie took up boxing when he was 18, and claimed the championship of the Irvington district. In short order he switched to canoeing and became an expert and leader in that field. His love of swimming was ever present, with many many hours spent officiating for the AAU.

In his early 80s, he dove into Masters Swimming, opening with 3 National Records for the 50, 100, and 200 Free, the first National Records for Oregon Masters Swimming (OMS). Collie became OMS' second All American in 1976. He won his first National Championship events in 1977 in Spokane. During the First World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, he won the 50 and 100 M Free setting a world record in the 100. He continued swimming and setting National and World records into his 90s, and was an All American each year that he swam. Simultaneously he was a champion and record setter in Masters Track and Field.

Many stories of him come to mind, but here are just a few:

During the Long Course Nationals at Mt. Hood he was 89 and most upset that a 90-year old from San Francisco was receiving all the glory. Collie was just weeks away from being 90, and his times were much faster.

At the Championships in New Zealand, Collie had the misfortune to swim the finals in the 400 Free at 11 PM; it was too much and he did not finish. However, this was instrumental in changing the format, so that the old folks started swimming first.

OB (Ol' Barnacle, Earl Walter) was getting the deck work done for the meet at the MAC when he received news that Collie would not be able to swim. Collie and Roy Webster had been boxing the previous day. Roy ducked a strong overhand right, and Collie threw his shoulder out. He was in his 90s.

My favorite story involves an incident pool side at MHCC (Mt. Hood Community College), just before the '82 Nationals. Collie was telling Dawn Musselman and OB about his walking on his hands the length of the old MAC 25 yard pool when he was younger, and that he could still walk a fair distance even that day. This brought a guffaw from a young man sitting nearby, with that Collie got up and proceeded to walk on his hands for a distance of 10 - 15 feet. Nuff said!

Collister (Collie, "just like a dog", he always said,) was quite a man, athlete, leader by example and deed, and will forever be remembered by OMS for his many many contributions to Masters Swimming.

Adieu Collie, thanks for the memories.

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