June Krauser came by her title, “The Mother of Masters Swimming,” one lap at a time, one record at a time, one accomplishment after another.
Don’t try to count the laps. Krauser probably swam to the moon and back since she was born into a swimming family in Indianapolis in 1926. She swam regularly until her health faltered. She died Saturday in Fort Lauderdale at 88.
Krauser lost track of her many national swimming titles after the first 100 or so.
“I have so many, I can’t keep track,” she said in a 1987 Miami Herald profile.
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Bruce Wigo, CEO of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, figures Krauser holds 154 U.S. Masters records and 73 Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) Masters world records. FINA is the world governing body for aquatic sports. Krauser served on the FINA Masters Swimming Technical Committee from 1984 to 2004.
And Krauser’s accomplishments in the sport? Well, late swimming legends Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe were pals and looked up to her.
In 1959, four years after Krauser moved to Fort Lauderdale with her husband Jack and their two children, Janice and Larry, she was named a delegate for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Convention and represented South Florida every year at its various conventions until 2008. In 1964, she was named a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Swim Committee and in 1968 she reorganized its rulebook as the swimming rules chairman. Krauser was also instrumental in the evolution of Eunice and Timothy Shriver’s Special Olympics as she wrote the rules for that organization.
But her greatest role in swimming originated in 1970 with colleagues John Spannuth, then national aquatics administrator for the AAU, and the late Dr. Ransom Arthur, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Spannuth and Arthur wanted to establish a competitive swimming program for adults and get it recognized by the AAU.
“Arthur suggested we have a committee called Swimming for Older Ages to encourage older individuals to swim on a regular basis [for] their physical fitness levels,” Spannuth, now CEO of the World Water Fitness Association, said from his office in Boynton Beach.
“Some people just absolutely opposed it,” daughter Janice Krauser-Keeley recalled. “Older people competing? Are you out of your mind?” Try golf and tennis in the early 1970s. “There was the country club existence of genteel athletics, none of this competing business.”
Spannuth and Arthur turned to Krauser. By 1972, Masters swimming, initially for athletes 25 and older, was born. Krauser was the first, and only, rules chairman for U.S. Masters Swimming and she wrote most of its rules. She founded, wrote and edited Masters’ first national newsletter, Swim Master, and printed it for 20 years while raising her children and attending to the family business, a steel tubing warehouse in Hollywood.
Today, some 60,000 swimmers ages 19 and over are enrolled in Masters swimming programs in the United States, with many more the world over.
“She played a major role in getting the whole thing started with her ability to get things done,” Spannuth said. “She literally wrote the book when it came to competitive swimming for adults and for the Special Olympics, and did more to kick-start those two programs than anyone will ever know.”
Krauser, who retired from national competitive swimming after earning a home economics degree in 1948 from Purdue University, began her own comeback in 1972 at age 45.
“I said, ‘I’ll work out for a year in the pool and see how it goes.’ When my times in the pool practices were better than the existing records, I thought I was good enough to compete,” Krauser told the Herald in 1987 after winning four events at the U.S. Masters Swimming National Long Course Championships in Houston. She’d never miss a nationals meet from her return until 2000 or the World Championships in places as far away as Brisbane, Australia, through the Stanford, California, event in 2006.
For her efforts, Krauser was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1994, the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
“We always called her the ‘Mother of Masters Swimming’ because if it wasn’t for June there wouldn’t be Master’s Swimming,” said Debbie Cavanaugh, boys and girls swimming, diving and water polo coach at Fort Lauderdale High School. “She was the backbone of the whole organization.”
For Krauser, and her younger sister, Cynthia Bruce, who held 11 national titles in the 1940s and many more Masters titles until her death in 2006, swimming began during family vacations at Lake Michigan. Krauser’s first race at age 5 wasn’t particularly auspicious.
“She had to swim the length of the pool, climb out, chew a cracker, and whistle a stanza of Dixie, dive in and swim back. That was the first race she swam,” Krauser-Keeley said, chuckling.
Krauser, rules-oriented and determined, could be self deprecating, too. When a swimmer first advances to the next incremental age group, there’s a potential advantage of being the youngest in the division. Krauser set seven world marks at a meet in Coral Springs just after her 65th birthday in 1991.
“I moved up in age divisions,” Krauser explained in the Herald. “Once every five years I break lots of records.”
Once asked how long she could keep swimming, Krauser answered, “I don’t know. Maybe I can keep swimming until I die.”
She almost did.
In addition to her children, Krauser is survived by three grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, at the International Swimming Hall of Fame at 1 Hall of Fame Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Donations can be made in Krauser’s name to the International Swimming Hall of Fame or the United States Masters Swimming Foundation.