Record-Breaking Masters Swimmer John Harrison Dies at 105

105-year old masters swimmer John Harrison has died. Harrison was the oldest registered masters swimmer in England, and was a member of the Godalming Swimming Club and the Royal Navy Swimming Club and the first British swimmer to set a World Best in the 100-104 age group.

In total, he set 5 records in 2014, the year he turned 100, though they were all broken in the same year by Japanese swimmer Mieko Nagaoka. In addition to his World Records, he held 30 British and 10 European Records.

Press Release by Swim England:

Tributes have been paid to ‘wonderful’ masters swimmer John Harrison, who has died at the age of 105.

John was the first British man to set a world best time in the 100-104 years age group and achieved five records in that category during his centenary year.

He was a member of Godalming Swimming Club and the Royal Navy Swimming Club and also held 30 British and 10 European records.

Jim Boucher, Swim England’s representative on the Home Countries Swimming Management Group, said John, who died on Friday 17 January, was a ‘wonderful man’.

He added: “Our eldest master, John set and broke many records and was thrilled to set about the 100-104 age group in 2014, his centenary year.

“A sharp wit and a great pianist, John was loved by all who knew him and met him in masters competitions.

“Our condolences go to his family as we remember this wonderful man and celebrate his presence in masters swimming.”

John was born in Farnborough on 25 July, 1914, and began swimming at the age of five – when he went skinny dipping in an old Army horse pond.

You’re never too old

In an interview published last year, John said: “It taught me two things. One, to swim; and two, not to drink the water.

“My parents found out two years later that I was still doing it, and I got the thrashing of my life.

“When my father had finished thrashing me, I said, ‘I didn’t get asthma last winter’. My mother said, ‘No, you didn’t…’ They both looked at one another. They then bought me a costume and taught me how to swim.”

John didn’t start swimming competitively until his wife, Doris, who he was married to for 74 years, told him to stop teaching sub-aqua, swimming and life-saving classes and take up the sport for himself – at the age of 79.

From then on he didn’t look back and was full of praise for everyone who supported him during his masters successes – and loved the fact he had encouraged others to take up swimming.

John said: “I have enjoyed and appreciated the support and encouragement I have received over the years, or should I say since I started at the age of 79, and I hope my swimming has inspired a few other people.

“If anyone follows my example, we will have a fitter nation and that would be a good thing. I say to anyone reading this: keep doing your best and if you come in last, so what. You have done the swim and will be the envy of others who don’t try.

“Remember, you’re never too old.”

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Awesome, what a long and accomplished and interesting life he must have lived. Made all the better by his “never say quit” attitude about competition and fitness. And one of very few left in the world that lived through not one but two World Wars.

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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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