Portrait of a Master: Dorothy Williams (GBR)


Dorothy Williams (GBR)

During Dorothy Williams’ 20+ years as a Masters swimmer, she has competed in Rome, Florence, Riccione, Vichy, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Montreal, Denmark, Geneva, and of course, in Guernsey (GBR) with the Guernsey Masters Club. She formed a team (consisting of Dorothy Weston, Edith Hewitt, Valerie Hardman and herself) in 1992 that broke world records in medley and freestyle.

Individually, she says, “after competing at many pools in England, Scotland and Wales, I probably hold about 700 medals, including lots of gold. My highest achievements were at Guernsey in 2008 while competing in the 85-89 age group; breaking the world record in the 100m and 200m breaststroke, plus four British records including the 50m freestyle and breaststroke.”

Williams has loved swimming and been involved in aquatics her whole life; not just for competition, but in various ways like teaching and life-saving. “I’ve never had a training plan,” she says regarding her competitive life. “Perhaps that’s why I have (physically) ached so much since my record-breaking swims in 2008,” she considers, referring to some pain and difficulties she has been experiencing with her leg and lower back/lumbar area.

For the moment, Williams says she has no specific goals, “except to get her legs (which have been particularly troublesome lately) working properly again”. Now 86 years of age, Williams says she has considered competing into the 90-94 age group and trying to beat the short-course world records in that category held by her long-time friend Dorothy Weston, whom Williams calls one of her sporting inspirations.

Dorothy Williams in 1992, Crystal Palace

Background – The road to Masters prowess

Dorothy Williams remembers the first time she swam. It was the 1930s and she was just a child in middle school. Her father promised her monetary rewards if she won medals in the school competitions, which she did, every year. She stopped swimming as a young adult, however, until she got a job at Hounslow Baths in the early 1950s. “It was there, watching club swimmers and people like Joyce Clarke (100yd freestyle national champion, 1954-55) that I realised what swimming was all about. I joined Hounslow Swimming Club, later the Heston Swimming Club, later Kings Commonant Club.”

In her first year with Hounslow (at age 31), she competed in the Borough Championship in the 100yd breaststroke. “I competed against 16 year olds and won,” she recalls. “George Fryer was the club coach at the time, who coached Margaret Edwards to Olympic fame.” These early competitions inspired Williams to begin a life-long commitment to the aquatic community. In 1962 she obtained her swimming instruction certificate and diploma and proceeded to teach at six different locations until 1982.

It was not until she was 64 years old that she began to concentrate on becoming a Masters champion. “On holiday in Fowey, Cornwall with friends I was talked into taking part in the Carnival Week celebrations, which meant swimming across the mouth of the river Fowey. Although I had been teaching schools in Middlesex for 20 years I had done little swimming; one never does when teaching all day, so after completing the 20min swim and finishing 9th out of 30 competitors of all ages, I felt elated, which prompted me to write to the ASA about senior events.”

Williams had never heard of Masters at that time, but was told by the ASA that if she registered she would be able to compete at the 1st Great British Masters in Aberavon, South Wales. She therefore called up her friend Dorothy Weston, and the two set off on their first Masters excursion having never even been off the starting blocks before. Both won medals at that first meet, and the rest, she says, is history. “We were high as kites on our way home and there was no stopping us now.”

Her friend Dorothy Weston, who broke about 26 world records in here career in all strokes, was eventually awarded the MBE in 2005 at Buckingham Palace by H.M. The Queen. The pair’s relationship is a prime example of how beneficial it can be to find a good friend to train and chase goals with: “We’ve had such a lovely time together since that first swim at Aberavon…what a wonderful world of Masters”.