Article image

by Albert Fisher

November 30, 2005

Looking forward to 90-94

Albert Fisher writes: "I was born in 1916, in Cleveland Ohio. On my fourth birthday my family moved to Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland, where I grew up, and where my parents died many years later.

My interest in swimming began when I was eight. I joined the YMCA, and spent several summers at a day camp in Rocky River, five miles away. We trekked to the Y-in-the-Woods on Mondays and Fridays, camped in tents over night and returned home the following mornings.

I actually learned to swim in a heavy rainstorm. The river swelled far above normal. I found a five gallon tin can, attached myself to it, waded out to the deep water, and floated down the river quite a ways, paddling frantically until I was able to steer myself to shore.

This was fun, so I did it again and again, each time gaining more confidence in myself and less frightened of the current. Eventually, I learned to swim without the tin can, but I'm sure my form was pretty primitive.

My brother, Wade, four years older, had become a good swimmer, and taught me backstroke, his favorite. In his senior year at Lakewood High School, Wade became the Ohio State Champion in a record time of 1:09.5. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1934 and was the best swimmer on the team, both in backstroke and freestyle.

I didn't fare so well in high school, though my best time was faster than Wade's record. I also graduated from Oberlin College in 1938 and was captain in my senior year. My best time there was 1:05.8.

The flip turn was invented a year or so later by Albert Vande Weghe, and became the standard turn until the present one. Albert won the silver in the 1936 Olympics. We became close friends, but I never beat him. Each time we competed I'd say "Wait for me on the turns." He never did. I was saddened by his death in August, 2001.

My career was very successful. I received a Ph.D. degree at Ohio State University, with three years out for the U.S. Navy duty in WWII.

Then, I began working in the pharmaceutical industry, and held various positions for 41 years, until I retired in 1986. During this period I was president of two organizations, one in industry and one in academia.

I joined the Masters swimming program in 1983, competed locally, and finally got enough courage to enter the National Long Course Championships in 1985 in Portland, Ore. I won a couple medals, but no golds.

A year later I won my first gold at the Long Course Nationals in The Woodlands, Texas. I swam the backstroke in a mixed medley relay. That has to be the most exciting experience I had had to-date.

I didn't miss a national championship meet for more than 15 years. Each time I won several medals, mostly in backstroke, though I became competitive in breaststroke, butterfly and the individual medley as time went on. In 1998 I won three golds in the backstroke events, beating Frank Tillotson for the first time in 12-14 years. I think Frank was as excited as I was, for each time we met I'd say "My great ambition is to beat you sometime." He always replied "Well Al, maybe today is the day." We've been close friends for many years.

In 2003 at the Short Course Championships in Indianapolis, I suddenly lost all my energy after the 50 and 100 backstroke. I decided to scratch the 200 in the afternoon, and went back to the hotel to rest. I was weak the rest of the day, and didn't recover by the next morning. The following day I decided to go home, caught a plane to Chicago, changed and arrived in Springfield that afternoon. A friend brought me home from the airport.

A couple hours later he was telling another friend about my condition and they decided to check on me. They found me on the floor about four feet from my bed, rushed me to the hospital, and the emergency room doctor diagnosed a heart attack.

I was in the hospital two weeks, then in physical therapy for four more weeks. Fortunately I had no heart damage and was back in the water about eight weeks after the attack. I missed the long course meet that year.

Last spring (2005) I learned from my friend Tom Haver, who is number one or two in our 85-89 age group, that in 2001 I had ranked seventh in the 200 meter backstroke in the world in FINA rankings and ninth in the 50 butterfly. What a surprise! I have made Top Ten in US Nationals, both long and short course, for many years in the backstroke events, often in the 50 breast and butterfly. In freestyle I haven't fared so well.

I've collected nearly 600 medals since my first one in 1995. About 100 have been won at national championships.

Next year, 2006, God willing, I'll reach the Big 90. If I am able, I would like to compete with the other 90-94ers. At least one can beat me, Woody Bowersock. I sure hope he'll be there. A true gentleman!

I've never had any coaching, except from my fellow swimmers, some of whom have been competitors who generously offered advice. I am grateful to them.

I owe much to swimming and much to Masters competition. Without swimming I probably would not have survived this long, and in such good health for a soon to be "nonagenarian." Without United States Masters I would not have acquired so may really great friends."