By Eney Jones
I haven’t fully understood the Hawaiian word ohana until now. It means family: blood relations, adoptive, or intentional. Masters Swimming was my father’s ohana, deliberately, intentionally, and wonderfully.
Following my father Burwell “Bumpy” Jones’s death on Feb. 6, 2021, a result of vascular dementia/Alzheimer’s, I’ve been contacted and comforted by Olympians Jeff Farrell and Rowdy Gaines, longtime Olympic coach Gregg Troy, and many, many Masters swimmers telling me stories of my father I had never heard before. They told funny stories, loving stories, and encouraging stories; everything from having to share a lane with him to having to race a 400 IM against him. Ohana.
He was the first world record–holder in that event, swimming it in 1951 at the first Pan American Games following the introduction of butterfly to the individual medley. He would set the world record in the 400 IM twice more.
When he went to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, his best event wasn’t contested, but he did come away with a gold medal in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. It took a few years—he swam in the prelims but the rule at the time, which was later changed, limited the gold medal recipients to those who were on the winning relay in finals.
Having a gold-medal-winning father, however, wasn’t always easy growing up. Maybe it was because he posted workouts on a board, even on weekends and holidays. Maybe it was because he had an extreme aversion to not only sugar but to salad dressing and chicken skin as well. Maybe it was his over-the-top discipline and drive that left me feeling a little bit fat and a little bit lazy. But I do remember being proud to show my friends that when you opened the “World Book Encyclopedia” and turned to the page marked “Swimming,” there was a photo of my father.
His passion and purpose was highly unusual but highly inspirational. He had a calendar on the wall on which he recorded his yardage. EVERY. DAMN. DAY. His philosophy was “NO ZEROES.”
I was able to swim with him in October 2020. At the end of our training session, we finished with what we always did, 6 x 25s sprint. On the last one, when I was gliding into the wall, he blew by me only to yell, “Sammy Save-Up wins again.” That’s what I always called him.
As his words and memories started to die, it was swimming that kept him alive. When he swam, time stood still. His stroke was so smooth, so effortless, and his competitive spirit was always ready for the kill.
Feb. 6 was the only time I’ve ever known my father to lose a race.
Over the past week, I’ve thought of his friends and rivals who have already passed, Graham Johnston and Don Hill. I’m so happy they can all be together again, joking and racing a lap or two. Ohana.
I’ve thought of the amazing coaches he’s had in his life. Matt Mann at Michigan and Soichi Sakamoto during his summers training in Hawaii. His Masters club was the Sarasota Sharks Masters coached by Rick Walker. I used to tease my dad about going to the “housewives’ practice” at 8:30 a.m., because he always seemed to be one of the only men. In his later years, my dad was coached by his white German Shepherd, Heidi, who was often seen pacing him while he swam in his one-lane 25-yard pool at home. Ohana.
In 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the book Future Shock, which explored how society was undergoing enormous structural change because of the increase in rapid technological advances. In this book was the research of Capt. Ransom Arthur, a Navy doctor, the founder of Masters Swimming, and who exposed the correlation between life stress and health. Arthur persuaded John Spannuth, then the head of the American Swimming Coaches Association, to start Masters Swimming, giving older swimmers, ex-competitors and beginners alike, a goal for keeping physically fit. The year was 1970. Both of these men were friends of my father, who joined Masters Swimming in 1971. Ohana.
My father set more than 200 individual USMS records, recorded more than 650 individual Top 10s, and was a 28-time individual All-American. He even coerced my mother, Rita-al Goding Jones, the mother of his five children, to swim. She set a USMS record in the 1650 freestyle despite not being a swimmer. Ohana.
My father had five children and is survived by four of them, B.J. Jones, Kathy Stottlemyer, Maureen Jones, and me, Eney Jones. My brother James Jones preceded him in death. He has nine grandchildren: Alden Jones, Allison Jones, Michael Jones, Emmett Stottlemyer (a swimmer at Roger Williams), Brennan Stottlemyer, Rydell Stottlemyer, Saylor Stottlemyer, Jackie Jagger, and Paige Jagger. He’s also survived by his wife, Kathleen Butts Jones. Ohana.
There is a Japanese saying: okage sama de, which translates to “I am what I am because of you.” All people become who they are because of everyone else. Masters Swimming and our love for swimming has made us ohana. With the support and encouragement of each other, we are okage sama de. I am so grateful for that, and I am so grateful to now really know the true meaning of the word ohana. As for my father, I am grateful to him every day because every time I swim, I will think of him.
By Virginia Sower
Burwell "Bumpy" Jones, a member of the 1952 US Olympic team, began swimming in Masters in 1972. See his International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame, "Burwell 'Bumpy' Jones (USA) 2005 Masters Swimmer" story.
SWIMMER magazine (March-April 2005, Vol. 1, No. 1) details a historical perspective of Burwell "Bumpy" Jones' early 1950s butterfly stroke in the Splashback article "Butterfly's Emergence Challenged 1950s Swimmers."