Article image

by Author Unknown

May 28, 2005

Early swimming in a mud lake with alligators

Bennett Young Allen was born in 1914 about one city block from a lake in Lakeland, Fla., where he grew up. He learned to swim when he was about four years old, but did not compete until he was in high school specializing in the breaststroke.

The lake near his home, where he practically lived, was approximately 1.5 miles in diameter, with a mud bottom and grass growing out from the banks. It contained cottonmouth moccasins and a six foot alligator. They practiced swimming by a 110-yard wooden dock. Up the steep slope from the paved road surrounding the lake was a livery (horse stable). When it rained the refuse from the stable washed down into the lake! "We swimmers were a bit rough in those days", he remembers. "One time my high school coach shoved me down to the bottom of the lake and stood on my shoulders until I thought I was going to drown."

He went on to compete on the University of Florida swim team from 1934 to 1939 and graduated in Infantry ROTC. He served in World War II and retired as a lieutenant colonel from the United States Air Force.

Ben became involved in the National AAU program in 1977 and received an award for outstanding athlete. That same year he joined Masters swimming and practiced at Landa Park, New Brunfels, Texas and competed in many meets. He said that his reasons for participating in Masters are comradeship, competition, travel, diversion from routine living, health, local meets and national championships.

"My most memorable Masters swims" he remembers, "were the 1st Fina/MSI World Championship in Tokyo in July of 1986 and the VI World Long Course in Sheffield, England in 1996." In Japan, he along with Tex Robertson, Gus Clemens, and Wally Hoffrichter set a world record in the 70-74 age group of the 200-meter medley relay in a time of 2:51.98. In England at the age of 82, Ben placed first in the 50-meter breaststroke in a time of 50.89 and second in the100-meter breaststroke in 2:01.98.

In November of 1999, swimming for Team Texas, he along with Roy Bodine, Jesse Coon, and Tex Robertson were the first ever 85+ relay. They set new USMS national records in the 200 medley relay (3:46.43) and the 200 free relay (3:38.91). Ben swam breaststroke in both relays, since his breaststroke is faster than his freestyle.

Master swimmer Chuck C. Baldwin has helped me the most. "After personal set-backs" he said, "I'm trying to get back in shape and compete again."

Ben was married in 1971. All of his children are married and have children, but to his knowledge they do not swim for fun or fitness.

Ben is retired from the Air Force. His hobbies are ceramics and sculpture.