Hall of Fame Masters Swimmer Thomas Maine Dies at the Age of 96
The St. Louis Area Masters member set 27 FINA Masters world records
Mary Pohlmann developed a routine for whenever Thomas Maine entered a meet.
Because Maine was likely to break U.S. Masters Swimming records and FINA Masters world records every time he swam, she would start the required paperwork and inform the meet directors about Maine’s record-breaking potential ahead of time.
Maine, a member of St. Louis Area Masters, set 27 FINA Masters world records, nine of which came after he turned 90 and eight of which still stand, and 57 USMS records, 27 of which still stand, before passing away on Feb. 27 at the age of 96.
He learned to swim around age 10 in 1935, two years after the Great Depression ended, and earned All-American honors twice while in high school. Maine joined the U.S. Navy and entered flight training school after graduating from high school in 1943. He swam with military base teams at the Naval Flight Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.
After completing his military service in 1947, Maine swam at Iowa State University, where he served as co-captain of the swim team. After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1952, he drifted away from the pool. He got married to Florence Bright, raised a family, and worked at the aerospace manufacturing corporation McDonnell-Douglas in St. Louis, Missouri.
Maine moved to Carbondale, Illinois, 35 years later, and his second wife, Shirley (whom he’d married after his first wife passed away), gave him a pass to the nearby Southern Illinois University student recreation center. There, he met Edward Shea, an Illinois Masters swimmer, who encouraged Maine to join USMS. (Shea passed away in 2003.)
Starting in 1999, Maine set dozens of records representing both Illinois Masters and St. Louis Area Masters. He made some of the most grueling events—the 200 butterfly and 400 IM—his signature races.
When he entered the men’s 80–84 age group in 2005, Maine set his first FINA Masters world records, in the 200 butterfly (long course) and 400 IM (long course). The following year, he set the men’s 80–84 FINA Masters world record in the 100 butterfly (long course) and lowered his 200 butterfly (long course) record. In 2007, he set his first short course world record, in the 200 butterfly.
Maine also earned 15 FINA World Masters Championships, traveling to New Zealand, Italy, Sweden, and Canada for those events. Pohlmann, his friend and teammate, remembers those trips fondly. “We did a lot together,” she says. “Tom Maine was a wonderfully caring human being, in addition to being an outstanding swimmer.”
Maine also recorded more than 550 individual USMS Top 10 times and was a 26-time individual USMS All-American. Through 2020, he achieved the fastest time in his age group for the year in 214 events. His swimming prowess was featured in Sports Illustrated and Chicago Athlete.
Maine was named one of Swimming World’s top 12 Masters swimmers in 2010, 2015, and 2016. In 2016, at the age of 90, Maine was inducted into the Masters International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Pohlmann coached Maine to hit “the touchpads harder so that his splits would record,” she says. “Often, his splits would be world records too, so I wanted him to touch that touchpad a little bit harder” so that it would register.
She recalls his providing advice too.
“Since his stroke was butterfly, he talked to me about how I dragged my hands through the water on the butterfly recovery,” Pohlmann says. “He urged me to put my head down farther on the breaststroke glide.”
Maine connected with many Masters swimmers over a shared love of the sport. Pohlmann remembers well how Maine and Shea worked out together for years and urged each other on to new heights. “I have to give Ed Shea a lot of credit for getting Tom back into competitive swimming,” Pohlmann says.
Maine swam at his last USMS national championship at age 92 in May 2018. He won all five events he entered—the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 200 and 400 IM, and the 500 freestyle. Soon thereafter his health began deteriorating. He last competed in January 2020 at the Barbara Stevens Memorial meet in Bowling Green, Kentucky, doing the 100 and 200 IM. He was 94.
“He never complained, even in his later years when he was becoming progressively weaker from several hospitalizations due to lung problems,” Pohlmann recalls. Noting his never-quit attitude, she says he always hoped to get back to competition, despite his own health challenges and the difficulty of staying safe during the pandemic.
“In 2021, his last [full] year of life, he competed in three Senior Games competitions, but his weakness prevented him from swimming his signature events,” she says. “Instead, he swam shorter events in backstroke, freestyle, and breaststroke.”
Nevertheless, his enthusiasm for swimming and his hopes of competing again remained well intact. “Even after his fall at Thanksgiving 2021 when he broke his hip, he renewed his USMS membership for 2022, optimistic that he might be able to compete again. This was a guy who never gave up.” She says he was especially looking forward to swimming in the National Senior Games to be held in Florida this year.
Across all this success in the pool, Maine’s biggest contribution to the sport “was being a great role model and inspiration to others of all ages,” Pohlmann says.
She fondly remembers when Maine had just aged up to the 90–94 age group, and the Saluki Swim Club, a USA Swimming club, hosted a dual-sanctioned long course meet in June 2015. Maine set three FINA Masters world records, in the 100 and 200 butterfly and the 400 IM.
“The kids and parents were all really excited about this,” Pohlmann says. “We took photos with all the kids and the Masters swimmers surrounding Tom, and the parents also took separate photos of their own child with Tom. They had this world record–holder in their own pool. It was quite an experience.”
- Human Interest