15 July 2022

Legendary Canberra swim teacher reflects on love for the pool and helping others

| Tim Gavel
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Carol Gathercole.

Carol Gathercole has taught thousands of young people to swim over the years. Photo: Supplied.

Carol Gathercole says it’s hard to put an exact figure on how many people she has taught to swim over the past 60 or so years. She does speculate it’s been in the many thousands.

But her teaching at Canberra Girls Grammar School, where she has conducted swim programs for the past 22 years, probably accounts for would-be swimmers well into four figures alone.

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Before then she taught swimming in Queensland, Sydney, Texas and three other pools across Canberra.

And the numbers will continue to grow. At 84 years of age, Carol has no plans to retire any time soon.

Carol Gathercole at Girls Grammar School pool.

Carol ready to train at Canberra Girls Grammar School. Photo: Supplied.

“I still love it, there is no way I will retire,” she says. “It’s just a joy. It keeps me physically and mentally fit. I sleep well at the end of the day.”

The origins of her desire to help others in the community lay in a country upbringing in the NSW town of West Wyalong.

Carol Gathercole in 1952.

Carol in the pool at West Wylong in 1952. Photo: Supplied.

Swimming pools were in abundance in country towns back then, with funding provided by the railway industry.

And swimming was part of her life from an early age, continuing through to her marriage to fellow West Wyalong resident, iconic coach Terry Gathercole.

Carol and Terry Gathercole, Townsville, 1957.

Carol and Terry Gathercole, Townsville, 1957. Photo: Supplied.

Terry went on to win silver at the 1960 Olympic Games before becoming a leading figure in Australian coaching until his passing in 2001. He also won two gold medals at the 1958 Empire Games, one in the men’s 220 yards breaststroke, the other in the men’s 110 yards freestyle relay. That same year he set a world record in Townsville in the 200-metre breaststroke.

Terry and Carol’s influence on Australian swimming is phenomenal.

Carol and the late Terry Gathercole, with three swimmers.

The late Terry Gathercole with Carol – a formidable partnership helping swimmers across Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Carol emerged as one of the pioneers in teaching children to swim. She taught while Terry coached the elite and competitive swimmers.

The formidable partnership took them around the world.

Terry and Carol Gathercole with assistant swim coaches in Texas, 1970.

Terry and Carol Gathercole (centre) with assistant swim coaches in Texas, 1970. Photo: Supplied.

In 1986, Terry was appointed as a senior coach with the AIS swimming program in Canberra. Carol taught at Lennons Health Club (once in Kippax), followed by Lifestyle and the Hyatt, before taking on the role at Canberra Girls Grammar in 2000.

“I have enjoyed every moment, every pool brought a different perspective,” Carol says.

Carol Gathercole with Dawn Fraser and Ursula Carlisle.

Carol with Dawn Fraser and Ursula Carlisle. Photo: Supplied.

“I just love giving kids the chance to reach their potential.

“There are also kids who need to swim because they have asthma and breathing issues. Swimming helps them in so many ways. It’s so satisfying.”

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Having watched Carol in action, as she taught my son to swim many years ago, I can vouch for the personal interest and pride she has in teaching swimming’s newest generation.

It’s reflected in those who work alongside her.

“I tell my teachers to think about the children you are teaching. Parents are handing over their most valuable possession into our care.”

Carol with her Australian Swim Schools Association Hall of Fame award.

Carol with her Australian Swim Schools Association Hall of Fame award. Photo: Supplied.

Carol’s programs not only teach children to swim, but provide structure in their lives. It helps them build new skills and confidence.

Her induction into the Australian Swim Schools Association Hall of Fame couldn’t have gone to a more worthy recipient.

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