Ole Larson still swimming at 91
by Jeff Eason
Ole Larson of Boone swims two and three miles several times a week at the Watauga County Swim Complex as part of his ongoing training for national swimming meets and the Senior Olympics.
Currently, he is training for the 2013 Senior Olympic Games to be held in Cleveland.
Larson was the coach of Appalachian State University’s swimming program from 1968 to 1979, coaching the men’s team and serving as the very coach for the women’s swimming and synchronized swimming teams.
He was also the first coach of the Watauga County Swimming Team, an organization that thrives to this day. Training swimmers ages 5 to 18, the team currently has about 80 members and is coached by J.D. Dove.
Larson was honored for his work at ASU with an induction into the Appalachian State Athletic Hall of Fame. He was inducted on Sept. 8 during a special ceremony at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone during the halftime of the ASU-Montana football game.
“That was nice because I coached at Montana State Northern for 12 or 13 years before we moved to Boone,” Larson said.
Larson has been a longtime competitor in the Senior Olympic Games. He currently holds 17 records in various age groups and swimming styles and distances. His specialties are the breaststroke and freestyle.
He also competed in the Lake Lure Open Water One Mile event held in Western North Carolina last August. His previous experience with open water swimming was competing in a two-and-a-half mile race in Charleston, S.C.
“I think the coldest water I’ve ever raced in was in Lake Superior when I was much younger,” Larson said.
During a recent lunch outing with Dove and Marilyn Price Laxton, Larson recalled the early days of the Watauga Swimming Team.
“I started and Jo Herring helped me get it going with the parks and recreation department,” Larson said. “Her kids Moose, Billy and Jody, all swam. There were also a lot of university people involved, such as the Henshaws, the Lawsons and the Winklers.”
One of the swimmers, Billy Herring, won the state championship in the backstroke.
“Ole’s the real reason that ASU had a swim team back then,” Laxton said.
“We started the women’s team despite zero funding from the university,” Larson said. “We would camp out when we had away meets. It took quite a few years before I was to be paid for coaching the ASU team.”
The lack of funding and support put the team in a tough position when it came to competing against other teams in the Southern Conference and in the Southeast.
Still, the men’s team placed second in the Southern Conference on one occasion during Larson’s tenure as coach and also came in second in a state meet that included colleges and universities of all divisions.
“The University of North Carolina came in first and we came in second,” Larson said. “I got a kick out of the fact that we beat Duke.”
A natural athlete, Larson played varsity basketball in high school and later at St. Olaf College (Minn.). He also played for the U.S. Naval station in Pensacola, Fla., and coached basketball in Montana.
One of Larson’s highlights for 2012 was competing in the National Senior Games at Stanford University near Palo Alto, Calif. He also completed a 5,000-meter “master postal” swim at the pool at ASU.
“Anyone can do it,” Larson said. “You have to have someone time you. To do 5,000 meters in a 50-meter pool, you have swim 100 laps. It took me about two-and-a-half hours to complete it.”
Added Laxton, “As usual, when he got out of the pool he said, ‘I could’ve done better.’”