Jun 02 2017

A Sailor’s Olympic Hero

Few have heard about Adolph Kiefer. He passed away last month but he left a considerable mark in competitive swimming and with the U.S. Navy.

Adolph was a celebrated swimming champion who won gold with a world-record time as a teenager at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He reached his peak several years later, and he could have been one of America’s greatest Olympic swimmers. But, World War II took over the world and canceled the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. The war, though, provided Adolph with his greatest satisfaction. His work saved the lives of many U.S. sailors.

Adolph entered the service during 1942 as a naval officer specialist in the physical fitness and swimming division. He quickly was appalled at the number of sailors whose deaths were attributed to drowning. More men died by drowning than gunfire.

With the approval of superiors, Adolph organized swimming and lifesaving instruction for every sailor. No one was permitted to board a ship without taking the 21-hour course. Adolph also helped design lifesaving equipment and created the victory backstroke—with arms extended over the head to form a “V”—that many sailors adopted when they found themselves in the water.

Ironically, Adolph’s career began with a near-drowning accident. He fell into an ice-cold Chicago drainage canal as a child. He did not swim, so he rolled on his back and began kicking his feet until he reached land. Immediately, he enrolled for swimming lessons at the Y.M.C.A. He became devoted to the sport and a champion backstroke swimmer.

A newspaper reporter at the Berlin Olympics wrote that no one who saw him swim could deny that Adolph was the greatest backstroke swimmer. About a decade ago, another sportswriter indicated that Adolph was to the backstroke what Pablo Casals was to the cello.

The cello, as far as I know, never saved a person’s life. The dedication of Adolph Kiefer, however, saved the lives of many American sailors. He faced a challenge as a child and learned from it. His path to fame was blocked by war, but he turned that obstacle into what he cconsidered his “greatest thrill.”

Dec 01 2016

Coaches Who Helped Pave the Way

Two innovative coaches left us this year. Each leaves behind a wonderful legacy and valuable life lessons for all of us.

Forbes Carlile was from Australia. His innovative ideas about sports physiology made him one of the world’s best-known swimming coaches. Dating back to the 1940s, his career is credited with producing many Australian Olympians. He coaching methods, believing that swimmers should start high-level competition at a young age, sent shock waves through swimming traditionalists.

Carlile decided that two leg kicks for two arm strokes (verses the conventional six kicks) saved energy. He also believed, again unconventional, that hot baths or showers before a race improved finish times by 1.5 percent, shaving almost a second in a 100-meter race (the difference between first and second place). He introduced interval training (alternating between activities that required different rates of speed and various levels of exertion) and advocated for year-round training that emphasized long-distance workouts.

Carlile originally planned to become a doctor. He changed his mind when he became ill while watching a film about an operation. He then studied human physiology and became dedicated to the science of swimming.

Closer to home, Ed Temple produced 40 Olympians for women’s track and field at Tennessee State. His athletes won 13 gold medals, six silver medals and four bronze medals. His teams won 34 national titles.

In his first year as coach, with a budget of $300, Temple’s team participated in one meet. A few years later, to get his runners to a competition in New York, the coach piled the team into his old DeSoto station wagon.

Temple was the team coach, trainer, counselor and parent. “I was everything,” he said a few years ago, “but you had to be, because there was no other person there.”

Temple’s teams were composed of more than just athletes. He always told the girls that they were young ladies and should carry themselves properly. He always reminded them that they were ladies first and runners second.

Temple also told the ladies on each of his teams that they should use track as an exchange for an education. Track, according to the coach, was the means to walk across the stage to receive a degree.

“Athletics opens up doors for you,” said the coach, “but education keeps them open.”

Mar 15 2015

A Big Splash At 60

Pool water is in his blood and soul. It has been since he was a kid on Long Island.

Roger Kahn was an all-state swimmer for Hewlett High School and he broke records at Penn State. From there, he has never stopped swimming. When he turned 45, he won a Masters national championship in the 50-meter freestyle.

During 2013, Roger was named an All-American in the 200 medley relay for his age group. The relay team was ranked number one in the U.S. and number three in the world. Roger’s part in the relay also was ranked one and three, respectively.

Just last year, as he moved closer to 60, he competed in the 50-meter freestyle and the 50-meter butterfly, along with a couple of relays, during the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship. Now, as he prepares for this year’s event, he has graduated from the 55-59 age group to join the 60-64 class.

He considers the change as just one advantage to getting a little older. He feels that the younger a swimmer is in an age group, the better the chance of winning a medal. He said the faster guys are the younger guys.

Roger, who owns a business in Garden City, is married with two children. Yet, with all the work and family issues to manage, he still adheres to his training schedule. He takes a training dip for an hour four times each week. He does a half-hour of dry-land exercises three days each week. Years of dedication helps him compete successfully against swimmers who can afford to spend more time in the pool.

One of the best tributes of Roger came from a friend who is the director at the pool where the swimmer trains: “Not only does he maintain a level of excellence…he’s been a great model for other people to stay dedicated.”

According to Roger, the focus required first to achieve success as a young student-athlete and then as a business executive helps provide balance in life. He said it all helps a person learn how to juggle responsibilities, balance priorities and concentrate on the most important things.

Jim