Jane Asher

Jane Asher began swimming competitively when she was a teacher nearly half a century ago to inspire the children in her class. Now 85, she is so dominant in the pool that she has lost track of the world records she holds and the medals she has won. Her feats continue to inspire today.

Is it true you took up swimming almost by accident?

I was teaching at a secondary modern school – children from little tinies, seven year olds up to the time when they left school. I thought that among those children were some that had potential, not winners but good competitors. They had never had any part of that sort of life, so I thought well I’ll show them. We went to the county championships and I entered in a race. It was difficult for me because the other competitors were about 16, and I was 40, and I wasn’t very well trained. The children came to watch me swim, but I didn’t think they would be very impressed because I was last in the race. A friend told me afterwards about races for grown-ups. She introduced me to master swimming and, from then on, I started doing more important work.

When did you first start swimming competitively?

I actually started off coaching. In those days, if you were paid to coach you weren’t allowed to swim as an amateur. I had to give up the coaching to start swimming competitively, and that was in my late fifties. Quite late, but that’s 30 years ago. I've been doing it for a long time!

“My name’s Jane Asher, and I swim. I coach and I swim, and I talk to a lot of people about it. Anyone who asks a question gets a very long answer...”

Do you remember when you broke your first record?

I think I broke my very first record in 1986 or 87. It was very exciting. If you have no idea that you're good, then it’s a real surprise when it comes up on the electronic equipment in big flashing letters: Jane Asher, GB, First! I started off by just breaking one and then thinking: “I could do more.” I started with the 50 and 100 metres, then you sit and you watch other people swim and you think: “Well, I’ll do 400 next and then 800 and then 1,500.” Then I thought: “I’ll do them all”, and I swam 35 races in one year! Now, Every time I move up an age group I see how I can swim. If you swim, you go for the record. You have to.

Do you keep track of your records?

For the 80-84 age group, I had 25 world records, but I also broke some European records and I broke all the British records. I know I still hold a world record for the 1,500 freestyle about 15 years ago. But no, I don’t look back, I look forward. This is my big year. Every five years we move up, and this year I turn 85. I want to break about 20 records.

You must have accumulated a lot of medals?

Yes! I haven’t got a clue how many medals I’ve got. There’s too many. Possibly thousands. If you get 100 a year and I’ve been swimming for 30 years, that’s a lot of records, a lot of medals.

How do you manage it all?

If you want to win things, you have to go out and do whatever has to be done. You have to be very determined. You have to go on whatever else is happening, be determined that you're going to go training and you’re going to put all you’ve got into it. Sometimes you don’t go to people’s birthday parties, you have to set priorities. Sometimes it’s not the favourite thing for the rest of the family, but sometimes family comes to watch and then they know why it is that you’re pushing yourself.

What does swimming mean to you?

If you get to 85, you have problems with health, you have family problems and you lose a lot of people. I can say that over the years swimming has been my soothing companion. Once you get into the swimming pool and you concentrate on your stroke, and you feel what you’re doing is nice, everything else falls away.

“Once you get into the swimming pool and you concentrate on your stroke, everything else falls away”

Is there one person who has made the difference?

That’s difficult. My father was wonderful. He had been in the American cavalry in the First World War and he brought up my brother and I like little soldiers. We were part of my father’s team. Whenever I took part in horse riding competitions he just put his hand on my shoulder and said: “You’re the best, aren’t you?”. It was a rhetorical question. He’s there. If I've got a race that I’m worried about, on the block I stare and I think: “Dad’s watching, you’ve got to get this right.”

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