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by Lee Nessel

September 16, 2002

Jumped into Masters with both feet

Ray Taft (USA) was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Masters Swimmer in 1996. His contributions to USMS and to swimming are many. He will be remembered as one of the pioneers and an excellent swimmer. The following text was included in the program for the induction ceremony of that year:

For the record: Masters swimmer since 1972; 49 world records: 65, 70, 75 year age groups; 28 world championships: 1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1996; 28 national championships; 63 national records; Recipient of Ransom Arthur Award.

Ray Taft has been involved all his life as a swimming competitor, coach, teacher, water-showman, administrator and advocate for Masters swimming. In 1972, the inaugural year of Masters Swimming, he ran one of the first Masters swim meets and has been swimming in the program every year since.

His involvement in the sport began 40 years earlier when, during his junior high school years, he chose swimming over all the other sports. Inspired by a track medal belonging to the father of one of his friends, he wanted to achieve something similar in a sport in which he felt he could become skillful. He chose swimming, however, Ray would first need to learn to breathe and swim at the same time. This he accomplished when he joined the AAU swimming program at the Crystal Plunge in San Francisco, swimming for Hall of Fame coach Charlie Sava.

Ray went on to coaching juvenile and adult age group swimming, water polo, aquacades and finally, climbing the ladder to organizing his own swimming club, the Taft Swim School that came to fruition in 1955. In ten years it had grown from an outdoor pool to a mini-enclosed competitive facility.

Parents of Ray's swim team members wanted to train, prodding Ray to develop a senior program for adults. Ray and his wife, Zada (Zada Taft), accepted the challenge and shared the coaching duties on the pool deck of the predominantly noncompetitive program which could be considered to be a forerunner of the Masters teams today. Two individuals to come out of Ray's program were Hall of Famer Ted Stickles and his sister Terry. Ted held four world records in the 400-meter individual medley and Terry was the bronze medal winner at the 1964 Olympic Games in the 400-meter freestyle.

In 1972, Ray jumped into Masters swimming with both feet. He hosted the first National Short Course Championships in San Mateo, Calif., and he has been actively swimming in the program ever since. He set over 51 world records in the 65, 70, and 75 year age groups and obtained 28 gold, four silver and two bronze medals at the Masters World Championships of New Zealand (1984), Japan (1986), Brisbane (1988), Indianapolis (1992) and Montreal (1994). He won 28 national championships and set over 63 national records all since he has turned 70. Backstroke and individual medley are his main events. As head coach of the San Mateo Marlins, his teams have won many honors, and he has served on the Pacific Masters Committee from 1972 to 1985.

In 1978, he and his wife Zada were honored as the recipients of the Ransom J. Arthur Award for outstanding contributions to the sport of Masters swimming.

Ray Taft has been active in all aspects of swimming his entire life. He has contributed his energy and enthusiasm to the sport's longevity just as he has dominated as an athletic participant in his Masters age groups for the past two decades.

The following is from Swim magazine

When it comes to swimming, Ray Taft has done it all. Perhaps that's why he is a 400 IMer - he likes to do a little of everything. Taft's aquatic career began when the swimming coach recruited him out of a junior high school P.E. class in 1933. In that era, he recalls, they swam in cold water without blocks, goggles, lane ropes or painted lane lines. Taft eventually became a coach, swam in the Army and opened his own swimming school with his wife through funds obtained from the G.I. Bill. "When we went overseas, I always looked for a place to swim even if it was jumping overboard in our transport or getting our convoys over to the South Seas. I always kept in touch with swimming."

Taft met his wife Zada while swimming in 1936, and 61 years later, they continue to swim together. In the 1950s, they opened a swimming school in the San Francisco area which Taft calls "a beehive with swimmers." The school was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1996 as the nation's longest-running family-run swim school. "We still have it, the only thing is, it's a hand-me-down to two of my children. My wife and I help out when needed.

"We still swim every stroke, every distance, open water and pools of any length—short and long course. We go internationally and to our national championships." The Tafts have no plans for slowing down! Taft finished this year with 23 first-place finishes, and has won the Waikiki Rough Water Swim 21 times, missing only one year for the quadruple bypass operation he underwent in 1990.

Taft's most sentimental race was at the 1986 World Masters Championships in Japan. He swam the 100 backstroke in the pool used for the 1964 Olympics, and dreamed of the 1940 Olympics canceled due to the war. "Every time I swim 100 meters, I say a little short prayer to my mother and father for what they have given me, and because I missed the 1940 Olympics. I felt that race (in Japan) was my victory in the Olympic Games."

by Lee Nessel , published in SWIM magazine, March-April 1997

On May 11, 1996 Ray Taft of Half Moon Bay, Calif., was inducted as a Masters athlete into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He, along with Ardeth Mueller, joins Clara Walker and Gus Langner, who, in 1995, were the first Masters athletes selected for the Hall of Fame.

Ray Taft is a living legend in the swimming world. Involved with masters since its inception in 1970, Taft, the founding member of San Mateo Masters Marlins, has been a role model for swimmers throughout his life by virtue of his skills, work ethic, competitive enthusiasm, and a sincere regard for the positive in everyone he meets.

Taft has coached and taught swimming to children, age group and senior swimmers, adults and Masters. Additionally, he has coached water polo and staged water shows during his long and rewarding career in aquatics. In 1972, Taft directed the first Masters National Short Course Championships at the College of San Mateo and was the force behind the development of Masters swimming in Northern California.

His swimming career has spanned seven decades, through his childhood, teenage years and time in the service (which cut short his Olympic aspirations in 1940). An extraordinary athlete, he was shifted from specializing in one stroke and distance to the broader scope of being proficient in all strokes. Over the last ten years, Taft has swum to 500 first places, 60 second places, and one fourth in pool events. His 21 national and 10 world records in 1995 are just a sample of his superior talents. He is also a champion in open water events in Hawaii and Northern California.

Taft expresses amazement at being selected to the Hall of Fame. "I thought the Hall of Fame was for baseball players and Johnny Weismuller," he admits. Actually, this will be Taft's third such honor as he was previously inducted into the Balboa High School (San Francisco) and the San Mateo County Halls of Fame.

When asked how swimming has affected him over the years, the naturally solitary Taft says, "Swimming has given me a multitude of lasting friendships and a wholesome and healthy lifestyle." His words of wisdom to younger masters swimmers are: "Even though time is precious and commitments to jobs and family are important and necessary, participate more! You'll be better for it."

by Nancy Ridout , published in Swim magazine, July-August 1996

In 1994, Ray Taft recorded an incredible 11 number one rankings, set eight world records for men 75-79 and was named one of SWIM's top 10 swimmers for the year. It hardly seemed possible, but 1995 turned out to be an even better year for Taft, who, with his wife of 55 years, Zada, has been swimming Masters with the San Mateo Marlins Masters since 1970. And so he is back on SWIM's creme de la creme list for 1995.

His achievements last year? Eleven number one rankings for short course, another 11 for long course and a total of 21 national and 10 world records in the free, back, fly and medley. Not only that, but at 76, he bettered many of the times he'd set a year earlier The retired coach and swim school director explains why he keeps getting better with age: "I'm another year away from my (quadruple bypass) operation in 1990 so I've regained more strength. I've added some strengthening and flexibility training and I've focused on pacing. Now I can maintain a predetermined pace for any distance."

Taft plans to improve even more in 1996, targeting the World Championships in Sheffield, short course nationals and the Waikiki Rough Water swim, which he's won a record 20 times.

Like all other honorees, Taft emphasizes the social aspect of Masters swimming. "At least once a week we go out with a small group of fellow swimmers of all ages—the old Turks and the young studs. That's what makes it so much fun."

published in SWIM magazine, March-April 1996

The following is excerpted from Ray's obituary:

Raymond F. Taft, a pioneer and champion in Masters swimming, died Friday (July 20, 2002) at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City one month after suffering a stroke. He was 83.

by Mark Simon, published in the San Francisco Chronicle