Clara Lamore Walker, who swam for the U.S. at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, won three national championships, and later in life set hundreds of national and world swimming records in several masters age groups, has died.
Walker died Friday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, according to her great-niece, Alyssa Kent. She was 94.
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, according to her biography on the International Swimming Hall of Fame website.
She started a job with the telephone company, joined a cloistered religious order, became one of the first women to graduate from Providence College, worked as an English teacher and guidance counselor in the Cranston schools, and got married.
She didn’t start swimming again until she was 54, after her doctor recommended it to relieve back pain.
She set a national record in the 50-yard breaststroke in the 50-54 age group in her first meet, which inspired her to start training again.
In total, she set 184 world records and 468 national records as a masters swimmer, according to the website.
She never had children of her own, but doted on her nieces and nephews and her great-nieces and great-nephews.
“She always treated us like we were her own children and grandchildren,” Kent said. “She was a great role model.”
She taught all her great-nieces and great-nephews how to swim, and all become accomplished swimmers in their own right, Kent said — some even competed in the Junior Olympics.
Her Naval officer husband, Doneal Walker, died in the 1970s, Kent said.
Walker received a bachelor’s degree in secondary special education from Providence College in 1973 and a master’s of education from the school in 1978, school spokesperson Carolyn Cronin confirmed in an email.
John O’Neill, Providence’s current swimming and diving coach, called Walker “one of the most focused and driven athletes I have ever worked with.”
“Clara was an extraordinary woman and athlete who excelled at all she did,” he said. “She loved her time working and training at PC, and was a huge Friar fan.”
Born in Providence in 1926, Walker was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968.
Funeral arrangements are pending.