My grandfather, Adolph Kiefer, would have been 99 today. He passed away peacefully on May 5, and we’ll miss him.
A World Without Adolph Kiefer
The morning of his passing, I experienced a spectrum of emotions. Adolph Kiefer lived a long, wonderful life and I was lucky to be a part of it. But it still wasn’t easy to accept.
I was left with a feeling that many survivors must feel when faced with the death of a family member: an unfamiliar discomfort of how to carry on without them.
How do I acclimate to a world without Adolph Kiefer?
It wasn’t a question that I could immediately answer at 4am, so I decided to do what I normally do on a Friday morning…
I went swimming.
Masters Swim Practice – Too Soon?
I arrived at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center at 5:15AM to train with Central Oregon Masters Aquatics, a team I’ve been swimming with for over a year.
As I walked across the deck, I wondered if it made sense to carry on as if this was just another start to a typical day. But that thought passed instantly. I’ve spent my entire life in and around competitive and recreational swimming pools and competitions. And although this day had started unlike any other, I had a duty to my grandfather to connect with the sport that defined him.
Instantly comfortable, the ripples and waves of my grandfather surrounded me. I flipped over for a few laps of backstroke, the stroke that became his signature event. When he was in high school, Adolph became the first swimmer to complete the 100-yard backstroke in less than one minute.
And while I’ll never break a minute swimming 100 yards in any stroke, I still love to swim, and recreate some of Adolph’s breakthrough accomplishments.
I easily flipped at the wall, performing my best rendition of the backstroke flip turn, a maneuver my grandfather invented to shave time off world records.
I began to think about how Adolph had revolutionized swimming and the swimming pool itself through innovation, making swimming pools both faster and safer.
Seeing the need to even the playing field for swimming competitions, Adolph invented the anti-turbulence racing lane to dampen wave interference from swimmers in surrounding lanes. And I enjoyed the benefits of the dampening lane dividers that morning – and the thought that my grandfather was in the pool with me, helping me through my workout.
Enduring Achievements & Memories
As I continued to swim, I realized that my grandfather will always be a part of my world and the world in general.
His legacy will live on through the swimmers he inspired and the lives that he helped save by making swimming a safer pursuit. Though Adolph Kiefer was first known as an Olympic Championship Backstroker, he considered his greatest achievement to be the work he did for the United States Navy, overhauling the survival swimming program with his Victory Backstroke and other maneuvers that allowed many soldiers to survive when they were thrown overboard.
I’ll never forget taking an elevator with Adolph years ago. He struck up a conversation with a stranger as we waited for our floor. After Adolph introduced himself, the man said, “I know who you are, your Victory Backstroke saved my life.”
Perhaps it was this indelible memory that inspired me, years later, to rescue a drowning boater in Lake Michigan on Independence Day.
As I completed the final laps of my morning swim, I realized that my grandfather is much more than a memory. Though he passed away, the swimmers he inspired and the lives he helped save continue to impact the world, as future generations of athletes and families develop and prosper.
And in that way, he lives on, actively contributing to the lives of millions of swimmers.
I left the pool that morning sad yet satisfied, the grandson of Adolph Kiefer, a man USA Swimming called ‘the Father of American Swimming.’
The World’s Biggest Pool Party
My grandfather would never have wanted a funeral; so I’m suggesting that we commemorate his life with a party.
He loved to throw huge parties and welcomed all partygoers, far beyond the Kiefer family, embracing our friends, and friends of friends. At these events, he was commonly found in front of the barbecue, watching his guests swim and relax during long summer days that flowed well into the evening.
That’s why I’m recommending that you spend today, June 27th, at the pool or beach, having fun in the water with friends and loved ones. What better way to celebrate the life of Adolph Kiefer, a man devoted to the celebration and advancement of swimming, than with the world’s biggest pool party?
See you at the pool.
Let’s Celebrate Adolph Kiefer Together
We’d love to see how you celebrate Adolph’s birthday. Post your swimming selfies to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #KieferBirthday.
Donate to the Adolph Kiefer Memorial Fund
The Adolph Kiefer Memorial Fund is intended to financially support swimming initiatives at local YMCAs and provide learn-to-swim lessons for children and families unable to afford them. You can make a donation here.