FORT LAUDERDALE, TIM GARTON passed away early Monday morning at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, KS, with his wife Mara at his side. He was 73 years old. Tim courageously battled cancer the last 25 years of his life and was one of the most dominant swimmers in the history of Masters Swimming. In 1997, Tim, along with Gail Roper, were the first two Masters Swimmers to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Working as a real estate developer in Vail, Colorado, in 1972, Tim read about the results of the Masters National Championships and decided to train for the 1973 championships in the 25-29 age group. He was the surprise newcomer, winning three events and setting the first of hundreds of national and world records as he aged up.
In 1991, Tim was diagnosed with lymphoma, considered an incurable cancerous disease of the lymph system. During chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he continued to train at reduced levels. When his cancer was declared in remission, in August 1991, some of the doctors credited his devotion to swimming as being largely responsible. In 1992, he started competing again and, in the FINA World Masters Championships in Indianapolis, he won his 100th national and international victory by winning the 100-meter freestyle.
“The Fox lived his life fully,” says Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist Steve Clark. “He was one of my best friends for the last 55 years, and on a regular basis kicked my ass in Masters swimming through every age group we entered….At Yale, he took me under his wing and taught me the virtues of wine, women and song…If ever there was a man whose life can be described by a baseball metaphor, he was that man: after rounding the bases at full speed, at the end he slid into home plate full of dirt and grime collected from having played the game to the very upmost. He will be missed.”
“We've lost one of the fastest post-college swimmers ever,” says the legendary Olympic and Masters Swimming Hall of Famer Jeff Farrell. “Tim could never catch Steve at Yale but clobbered him constantly years later, with many national and world record swims. He was a special person to watch and to be with. Steve's description was an admiring - and accurate - memory of a special guy.”
“He loved swimming,” says Yale Alum Greg Lawler. “He loved his family, loved his friends, and loved his stories, most of them involving swimming. He was particularly proud of one - about swimming against his best friend Steve Clark. Steve had set the world record in the 100 free at the Tokyo Olympics, but at a masters meet in Japan years later, with both swimming absurdly fast for not young people Tim beat Steve in a 100 race.. When asked by a reporter asked how he had beat Steve, he answered –‘some people age like fine wine, others like a ripe banana.’ Tim was very proud of that insult, proof of his affection for Steve.”
“Tim always seemed a bit larger than life,” says Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Contributor Phil Whitten, ”a Rabelaisian figure who always had time for friends and was happy to help out the sport he loved. Never bound by conventional expectations, he had no intention of quitting swimming when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma 25 years ago and told he'd never be able to compete at the elite Masters level again. Tim never bought that prognosis and in short order was winning gold in the Masters World Championships.”
Tim was passionate about his love for swimming and he will be missed.