Lead Article Masters Swimming

"No Limits"




 A Series by Tony Pearce



                                                                     LONDON SWIMMING

                               A PERSONAL NARRATIVE


 Part One.


Pool clock

                                 When I first walked on to the poolside as the newly appointed Swimming Coach at St Paul's Boys School in 1993 my intention was for that swimming pool to be an example which every other school in London with a swimming pool could follow.

 Then, it was I and Me. After some three decades St Pauls Barnes, now Barnes Swimming Club, is now one of the foremost swimming clubs in London Region Swimming. It is an example of how to foster community links and offer equal opportunities to all - from the young age group school swimmer to the senior swimmer attending further education or starting work to the master’s swimmer.

 All aspiring to be the best that they can be.

 Now. It is We and Us.

 Yes, no limits.

  It is here that the facts of Tony's association need further explanation. He trusts that his opinions, derived from his long experience will be of enjoyment and interest to all.

 During WW2 St Paul's Boys School in London was the Allied Invasion HQ, attended by Field Marshal Montgomery, himself a past pupil at the school, King George and U.S General Eisenhower.

 Tony's Grandparents, Charles and Alice Pearce, were a typical working-class family in South West London. They had come through WW1.

 Charles, a post office telegraph boy, survived the horrors of such battles as the Somme as a corporal of a gunner’s unit.

 Alice, a seamstress in a dressmaker’s shop, worked in the arduous environment of a munitions factory. As a married couple, they bore three daughters.

 They always wished for a son. WW2 broke out and their wish was granted. To escape the bombing of London, Alice and the three daughters were evacuated to Suffolk while Charles continued service in the Medical Corps.

Tony with mum and dad

In 1941, during The Battle of Britain, the eldest daughter Jennifer, 15, being of school leaving age, joined the WAAF and became an ambulance driver, a vocation she continued to occupy for the rest of her working life.


Tony's mum in uniform
Tony's dad in uniform

 Wayne Sheffer was a farmer from the little town of Henderson Kentucky on the border of the Ohio River near Indiana.

He was the eldest of 7 children. Only 3 survived at birth. When WW2 broke out, as a Staff Sergeant in the USAF Military Police, he was part of the Allied Invasion experiencing action in France and Germany.

  He and Jennifer met when he came to England and Tony was born.  An attachment, "The Letter", written by Wayne to Jennifer in 1945 indicates this. Here, Wayne mentions that they meet. They didn't. It is surmised that at this point Wayne was posted to France and then Germany. The end of WW2 saw the immediate bringing back home of the U.S forces..

  Hence, the post WW2 Family became Charles and Alice Pearce with their remaining 2 daughters and a late born son:

               Anthony Wayne Pearce (Tony Pearce)

To read "The Letter" download it here

Tony was brought up by his Grandparents, to him, his only "Mum and Dad". He called them as such. His two eldest Sisters, in reality his aunts, gave him his first introduction to swimming. They took him to the nearby Tooting Bec Lido. A hot Summer’s Day in 1950 amongst the hordes of public bathers. The long queue along the path under the shade of the trees. The sound of the clicking-turnstiles and clicking entry coins and the increasing noise of bathers performing bombing dives and a rebounding springboard splashing. The old wooden lockers offer a brief respite until he’s engulfed by the mingling poolside crowd. Tony, inadvertently escaping the loving clutches of his aunts, took it upon himself to bravely plunge from the poolside into the water with all the other bathers. Just in time, he was safely pulled out by his mop of curly hair by one of his aunts. Subsequently, he was taught to swim by his grandfather in the sea. Helping him walk on his hands through the surf of small waves then whirling his arms, furiously kicking his legs and moving his hands to propel his body through the incoming waves.

Tony's first swim

Tony's photo of the farm house

Grandfather marvels, "What a swimmer!" A star was born. Tony then started his competitive swimming career through his local state school. Saturday morning pictures at the Granada Tooting was replaced by Gorringe (Swordfish) Park School Swimming Club at Wimbledon Baths. All of us lined up across the deep end of the pool. The one length of front crawl. The Olympic Final. Our Own Olympic Final. Ready ....... Steady .......then the sharp shrill of the blast of a whistle. Go!!!

Galas against other clubs. The Pentagon Trophy. Five local clubs competing against each other. The Final Round saw the final event the 4 x 33 yards front crawl relay. The baths balcony was packed with spectators. Our relay team sat there waiting to be called up. It was announced that this race would decide the final points outcome.


Tony with his grandma

"Tony's going last!" I remember looking at the other three swimmers. I remember looking at them. They were all scared. We all were. The working-class state school kids from Mitcham. I remember looking at the other team. The toffee-nosed upper-class kids from the shires of Surrey. But, due credit, they were better than us. Up until now ....... The noise of the vast crowd was deafening. We were just trailing the leading team. I then took the plunge. I first took a huge intake of air, stuck my head down, held my breath, looked at the long black line on the bottom of the pool and just kept winging my arms. I had rehearsed this many times on my own in the public swimming session. Grandfather comes with me. And when the gala is over, takes me safely home. Grandmother has some dinner ready. She would rather do that anyway. She only came to watch once but still did not see me swim. Why? She could not find the toilet. Extra training in the summer at Mitcham baths down the road. Winter months used for all week day OAP bowls and Saturday night amateur boxing. Case of "Can I have some money to go swimming?" Granted without question. A substitute for the popular sport of "scrumping". Acquiring various fruits off the trees in people’s back gardens and getting into trouble. All the signs were there. One day I received corporal punishment every lesson. School report read "Tony has a pleasant disposition". Surrey County Training at Wimbledon Baths in the winter months. Once, by taking an enlightened approach to swimming officialdom by lobbing some stink bombs in the bath’s cafe where all the Swimming County Swimming officials resided, reaped the benefits of the relationship between school and club. Not only was I was banned from County Training for two weeks but at the same time rewarded with corporal punishment from the headmaster of the school. The black book and a bamboo cane stored behind a metal cabinet. Stripped of my temporary prefect’s badge. I was on the verge of being expelled. This gravitated to being disciplined while being on the English Schools Team for "going out". I was beginning to take an interest in the opposite sex. I eventually complied, a place being chosen to fully represent Div 11 (Surrey and Kent). And this was supposed to be the year for me. A shining star. Looking to get good exam results to be considered for Loughborough P.E College albeit cracks beginning to show.

It was at this time, a summer time, before my last school year, that Grandmother ushered me into my bedroom. "I have something to tell you" "Oh! Oh!" I thought, "I'm in trouble again." She then showed me the letter. She then gave it to me. Nothing was ever said on the matter again. Grandfather the same. Strange though, I never felt a thing emotionally. Besides, I was in too deep and moving too fast .......although seemingly moving in the wrong direction!

Tony's mum, studio photo

Tony with curly hair

I kept the letter in a little tin box hidden in a cupboard and carried on with life. What the hell. Life goes on .......

                           So, Tony's ambition took him on his bicycle to the Amphibians, now Croydon Amphibians Swimming Club, then one of the best swimming clubs in the country. It was here that he aspired to perform at County and District (District)London and National level, both for swimming and water polo.

 The Head Coach of the club at that time was Harold Judd, himself a fine competitive swimmer. His testament is displayed at Tooting Bec Lido South London Swimming Club and Balham Leander Swimming Clubs 500 yards Trophy. The pool is open air, not heated, 100 yards long. Harold was the inspiration for Tony to become a coach.                       

©Tony Pearce

  Later, as a senior swimmer, with the advent of age group swimming for children, he joined the famous London Otter Swimming Club, a bastion for senior swimmers. Here, he was encouraged to start his coaching career by the then head coach Kelvin Juba. Otter originated masters swimming in this country. Tony later played water polo for Hammersmith Penguin now West London Penguin. Two of the oldest established London swimming clubs.

 After reading a Swimming World Journal magazine during a hiatus in California at Long Beach Swim Club Tony was inspired by the legendary U.S Swim coach Dick Jochums and later James "Doc" Councilman Head U.S Olympic Coach.

  While at Long Beach California Tony both witnessed and experienced the lifestyle of masters swimming in U.S Swimming as the modern philosophical movement in competitive swimming. When he returned to London  he became a founder  member of Spencer Swim Team. John Gordon and Dave Mace pioneered masters swimming in this country.

Tony's dad in uniform, studio photo

At the turn of the decade 2000 through Pamela Winfeild of TRACE, Tony in the age of IT, by chance discovered his Father Wayne Sheffer. Unfortunately, he had died and his name had mistakenly been left on the electoral register. His Mother finally saw him swim in competition. In the GB Nationals at Crystal Palace NSC. He then bequeathed the medal to his mother. He then travelled to the U. S in Ohio and competed in U. S Championships winning and likewise bequeathing medal likewise to family representative. He then travelled to Kentucky and touched his Father's grave.

  There is a commemorative brick wall at St Paul’s School Names Individually Symbolised. Tony has a brick and it reads thus:

                                            Anthony Wayne



©Tony Pearce

It is Summer. In Henderson Kentucky. The heat. Cherry Hill. Robards. The yellow of the corn matches the intense heat of the sun. A gentle breeze rustle of the corn. The corn stands high. A rustling noise but still the sound of silence.

 After touching Wayne's grave, I go to the local church (Catholic) Sunday Sermon.

 I am introduced to the Preacher afterwards.

He had a shaky arm.

By all accounts an injury from serving in Vietnam.

I give an explanation as best I can.

Polite. Somewhat nervously and embarrassed.

"I've never met my Father" "You will,” he replied.

"I am the illegitimate child of Wayne Sheffer!"

"It's not the child of the child, it’s the parents of the child that are illegitimate!"

The noise of the engine of the car drones in the background.

I view the picturesque country side.

I spot the small Sheffer farm family house.

"That's the Sheffer property."

The drone ceased.

I sensed a presence,

An acceptance

As if from past generations.

I sat in the congregation in anticipation.

The Preacher began his sermon.

"Today's subject is on the subject of one's identity.

"The most important thing that we have."

The end of a long journey at last?

No. Just Another step forwards.

Yes. no limits.

                 Tony Pearce.

TP Graveside


©Tony Pearce

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