ADOLPH KIEFER - OUR FOUNDER
"There will never be another like Adolph Kiefer,"
said Bruce Wigo, president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, told the Associated Press after Kiefer's death in 2017. "Not only was he a great swimmer and businessman, but he was a great human being, husband and father whose memory will live on as a model and inspiration for future generations of swimmers and non-swimmers alike.
Kiefer broke his first world record at 15, and for 15 years he held every world backstroke mark,
according to the New York Times. He was the first man to swim the 100-yard backstroke in less than one minute, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Kiefer also set world records in the individual medley, and from 1935 through 1945, when he retired from swimming, he won 58 national championships in backstroke, individual medley and freestyle. From 1934 through 1943, Kiefer won more than 200 consecutive backstroke races. He broke 23 records, including every national and world backstroke record, according to Team USA.
Kiefer received the Louis Zamperini Lifetime Achievement Award,
presented by Diane Sampson, president of the Midwest Chapter of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association. Kiefer and Zamperini were friends, and both competed in the 1936 Olympics, representing the United States. Olympic Gold Medalist Kiefer was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and served on the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition for three presidents. "Adolph Kiefer embodied swimming lived it every day of his life," USA Swimming former interim executive director Mike Unger told the Associated Press.
Dedicated his life to empowering everyone to be confident in the water
"Let's keep 'em swimming." – Adolph Kiefer
After Adolph Kiefer finished his race for gold, he ran under the bleachers and prayed. "This is just a swimming race. It's what you do with your life after that that's more important," he said. After a lifetime of competitive swimming, filled with accolades, medals and honor, Kiefer made his mark teaching Navy recruits how to swim, running swimming and lifesaving instruction for the entire branch. "No one could get on a ship without taking a 21-hour course in swimming," Kiefer said. "We designed lifesaving equipment and taught then what we called the victory backstroke," according to the New York Times.
"The biggest thrill of my life was having people tell me that I saved their life by teaching them the 'victory' backstroke," Kiefer often said.
His Navy work inspired him to start his own company that sold swimming performance and training equipment. As an industry leader, Kiefer not only changed the way swimmers competed – with racing lanes, swimsuits and goggles – but how instructors and parents taught beginners to swim.
"Kickboard was one of the first items we did," Kiefer said. "We found it to be such a simple way for mothers and fathers to teach, a simple way for swimmers to practice their kick." To Kiefer, swimming and business were one in the same: "I wouldn't do anything unless it was for swimming, safety, learn to swim, swimming teams, championships. I think about going forward, saving lives. We have to do it."
At 17, Kiefer won an U.S. Olympic Gold Medal at the 1936 Berlin Games for his backstroke. "He did it with the ease and nonchalance that are the rare privilege of only the greatest athletes," wrote New York Times reporter Albion Ross, who covered the 1936 Games.
Kiefer devoted his life to becoming the best swimmer in the world. As a youth, he swam every day for hours on end, and by the age of 16 he became the first person in the world to break the one-minute mark in the 100-yard backstroke. This monumental record would stand unbeaten for another 15 years.
After retiring from swimming, Kiefer went on to start Adolph Kiefer and Associates in 1947, today known as Kiefer Swim Products. Widely recognized as an industry leader, Kiefer produced lane lines, starting blocks, lifeguard equipment and apparel. Kiefer served as CEO from the company's founding until he retired in 2011.
In later years, Kiefer ran youth swimming programs in Chicago. He and his wife often attended major meets around the world. Kiefer was a fitness advocate who traveled the nation encouraging businesses to sponsor fitness programs for their employees.
At 23, Kiefer was a chief athletics specialist in the Physical Fitness/Swimming Division and was alarmed by the inadequacy of the Navy's Swim Training program. Several high-ranking officers didn't know how to swim and the Navy was losing more lives to drowning than bullets. He designed and implemented a comprehensive swim training program for 2 million recruits.