Kenneth To Is Remembered by Those He Touched, Big and Small

As the world awoke on Tuesday to news of the passing of 26-year old professional swimmer Kenneth To, emotional rememberances spread across social media.

It always hurts when we lose someone as young as 26, but without intending to rank tragedies, it always hurts a little more when the person lost shines a light on the world as brightly as Kenneth.

First, a personal anecdote, and then I’ll share some of the thoughts that have come out from people far more important than me.

In 2010, when my then-partner Andrew Scherer and I were working on one of SwimSwam’s predecessor sites called The Swimmers Circle, we were chugging along, and slowly-but surely building our audience. This was in the early days of social media, where things were less predictable, less steady, and less scientific.

One day, we suddenly saw a 300-person bump in our fan page. When I went to try and figure out why, it was because Kenneth To had liked our page, and commented on an article. It was a point of motivation for us because, at a time where we weren’t sure what it was going to become, To was the first elite swimmer to engage us, and he did so at an age (18) and a point in his career where in his native Australia, he carried a lot of influence. He brought a light to our efforts and our passions, and that’s something that continued throughout the rest of his life, into SwimSwam, and with different members of the staff. He was always willing to share, always willing to chat, and always was upbeat and positive. At the time we were small, just some guys trying to do something good, and he gave us the time. It’s clear by the breadth of people who were touched personally by him that we weren’t alone.

While a very minor share of his character and positivity, the outpourings from teammates, competitors, and administrators around the world who knew To indicate that this was the way he always was, on scales large and small, from those who knew him daily to those who only knew him once. Swimming New South Wales, where To used to train before moving to Hong Kong and eventually the US, said that he “will be remembered as much for his results in the pool, as well ass being the true gentleman he was outside of it.

“Achieving results was a key focus for Kenneth, however, he always made sure he was there to support the team and was loved by all his teammates. His work ethic was second to none and was inspirational for all those who trained with him.”

The number of tributes on social media are almost uncountable, but we’ve selected some to post below. You can check his tagged images on Instagram to see more here.

Other remembrances:

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Definitely a shock. He was such a light and pure guy. He will always be my example for any swimmer that puts boundaries on themselves from their height, work ethic, whatever. I would show swimmers who are struggling, insecure, self conscious, his videos, and they would be amazed by his underwaters, beating men maybe a foot or more taller than him. The mental strength of this man and the fortitude he must have had after moving countries, surgery and more, all while working his way back into the sport is a strength not many athletes have in their entire career, expecially since he did it with a smile. Kenneth To, You will not be forgotten, and your example will always be that of strength, resilience and a smile in the face of adversity in competition and in life. I hope your family will be honoured by the prayers, love, support and feeling of pride as they hear from the swimmers and people Kenneth has impacted in such a short time.

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Our Australian Swim Team won’t be the same without you Kenny 😔💔 We’ve lost such a kind hearted, selfless, friendly, warm and authentic person. Kenneth took me under his wing on my first Australian Team (2014 Commonwealth Games Pictured). One of our team activities at these Games in Glasgow was to go on a dinner date with a member of the team. Kenny and I paired up, and I remember him ordering my dinner, then carrying my tray of food around until I finally found a good place for us to sit. He was so hilarious, constantly making jokes and making sure I was having fun 😆 During our dinner date I got to learn so much about him and his incredible journey. My admiration for him as an athlete and a person grew stronger from that night, every time he checked in to make sure I was doing okay. He really did contribute to mine, and many others enjoyment and success on Australian Team tours. His passing has left a hole in our swim team family 😔 There is so much I could write about how amazing he was as an athlete and person. I hope everyone is staying strong ❤️ Rest In Peace Kenneth To ❤️ Australian Swimming Number 705. Taken too young 😣 #kennethto

A post shared by Taylor Mckeown (@tay_mckeown) on

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I end this day with the heaviest of hearts and tears in my eyes. How such a beautiful soul like @kennethkhto can be taken from this world at 26yrs old is devastating. I was so lucky to have known this amazing man since 2007 and I was just last week talking about his swims at last weekends TYR pro series event and how I hope he gets to swim at Tokyo 2020 having just missed selection in the past for two Olympic Teams. He had a heart of gold, swam short course like no one else and had an infectious smile that lit up the room. You will be forever remembered Kenny for all the goodness you brought to everyone’s lives in particular to the community of Swimming, World Wide. Rest In Peace amazing one, we will miss you ❤️🧡💛💚💙

A post shared by Michelle Graham (@mishgraham) on

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우리나라에선 잘 알려지지 않았지만, @kennethkhto 는 호주와 홍콩을 비롯해 전세계적으로 성실함을 인정 받는 선수였다. 이민 간 호주에서 수영을 처음 배우고 2010 청소년올림픽을 시작으로 호주 국가대표로 맹활약했다. 실제 오늘날까지도 개인혼영 100m와 200m (SCM, 단수로) 호주신기록 보유자이기도 하다. 중간에 허리부상 및 수술 때문에 리우올림픽행을 놓치고 잠시 주춤하는 듯 했으나, 새로운 각오로 홍콩 국가대표 자격을 취득하여 2017 유니버시아드대회를 시작으로 2018 자카르타 아시안게임과 항저우 세계단수로선수권대회까지 짧은 기간 동안 무려 16개의 홍콩신기록을 갈아치웠다. 그는 수영선수치고 단신(170cm)이었지만 그를 작게 보거나 내려다보는 아무도 사람은 없었다. 그를 조금이라도 알던 사람들은 언제나 밝고 상냥했던 그의 모습을 기억한다. 나도 작년 싱가포르 경영 월드컵에서 팬이라며 수줍게 인사와 선물을 건넸을 때 "한국에도 내 팬이 있다니, 내년 광주가 더 기대된다"며 반겨줬다. 이후 "또 물어서 미안한데 이름이 뭐였죠?"라며 마주치면 먼저 인사해주는 모습에 단순 팬서비스나 이미지관리 때문이 아니라 진실되게 사람을 대할 줄 아는 그의 따듯한 성품에 감동하여 그를 더욱 더 열심히 응원하게 되었다. 그렇게 스치듯 딱 한 번 본 나 조차 그의 갑작스런 (미국 전지훈련 중 갑자기 고통 호소하여 병원에 실려갔으나 곧바로 사망) 비보를 들었을 때 너무 놀라 나도 모르게 눈물이 나서 화장실로 도망쳐야했는데… 실제로 그를 알고 그와 함께 훈련/경쟁했던 동료선수들이나 지인들과 가족들은 상실감이 얼마나 클지 감히 가늠조차 할 수 없어 마음이 더 아프다. 올 여름 광주에서 또 마주치면 '나 기억하냐고 물어봐야지' 기대했던 게 이루어질 수 없다니 믿기지 않는다. 전해질 지 모르겠지만 한국에서도 애도하고 있습니다. 삼가 고인의 명복을 빕니다.

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1 year ago

Wait, what just happened?! I can’t believe this news, I’m in shock…
My heart breaks for him and his family, just an awesome swimmer and an even better person.
He and his family/friends will be in my prayers.

Honest Observer
1 year ago

Very well written article. Before reading it, and the compilation of tributes you gathered, most of us in the bleachers would only have known Kenneth To as another world class swimmer whose name we saw in the meet results. Now we have a sense of his personality, and that makes the loss much more poignant. Thank you for that.

S Tobin
1 year ago

Beautiful tributes and comments. Tragic loss of someone so young. My condolences to all who knew him. Let him live on in you and your endeavors.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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