Passages: Clara Lamore Walker, 1948 Olympian, Masters Hall of Famer, Dies at 94

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Clara Lamore Walker, who swam for the United States at the 1948 Olympic Games in London and is a Masters Hall of Fame honoree at the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) died at age 94 on Friday.

She won three national championships, and later in life set hundreds of national and world swimming records in several masters age groups.

Walker died Friday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, according to her great-niece, Alyssa Kent.

She participated in the 200-meter breaststroke in the Olympics when she was 22 years old, but swore after her last heat that she was giving up competitive swimming for good — which turned out to be far from the truth.

Born in Providence in 1926, Walker was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995 as a Masters honoree, and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968.

“Clara was an extraordinary woman and athlete who excelled at all she did,” Providence College swim coach John O’Neill said in a university statement. ” She loved her time working and training at PC, and was a huge Friar fan.  A member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, she was one of the most focused and driven athletes I have ever worked with.  She will be missed by all who had the privilege to know her.”

Fellow Rhode Island Olympian Elizabeth Beisel posted a remembrance to her Instagram page calling Walker “my idol.”

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Funeral arrangements are pending.

From her ISHOF page:

When Clara Lamore Walker climbed out of the pool at the 1948 Olympic Games in London after swimming the 200m breaststroke as a member of the United States Women’s Olympic Team, she swore she would never do it again.  At 22, she had been swimming ten years and had had enough.  After all, she was the winner of three US National Championships.  She had done it.

It lasted for 33 years, until her doctor recommended she start swimming to relieve the pain from a bad back.  She was 54 a t the time.  She had worked for the telephone company, spent seven years in a cloistered religious order and became the first female graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island.  She was married to Doneal Walker, a Naval officer and traveled through Europe with him for seven years until he died unexpectedly in 1970.  She then taught school and became a guidance counselor at Western Hills Junior High School.  It was then that she got back in to the pool – for therapeutic reasons.  Wasn’t much, just three days a week for a few months.  But after she entered her first swim meet, maintaining somewhat the same stroke that Coach Joe Whitmore had taught her years before, she set a US National record in the 50 yard breaststroke in the 50-54 age group.  It inspired her and re-enthused her to train hard. It was as if all the years away from the water didn’t matter.  It was as though she were alive again back in the Olneyville Boys Club, her world defined by the borders of the pool.

Once again swimming became everything to Clara Lamore Walker.  Before she graduated from the 55-59 age group, she had set more than 103 national records.  currently, she holds every world and national record in the 65-69 age group except in the butterfly.  And she did the same thing when she was in the 60-64 age group.  Her records and her achievements follow her through time.

Clara Lamore Walker had been undefeated in competition for over ten years. She has been selected the Outstanding Masters Swimmer in her age group for the past eight years and has been the holder of 184 world records and 468 national records, more than any other Masters swimmer in the world, male or female.