Who is Ashby Harper?

Who is Ashby Harper?


Ashby Harper was the second person to cross the Santa Barbara Channel between Santa Cruz Island and the mainland – and the first to do so by the longer (23.5 mile) route, finishing in Santa Barbara. He did this in 1984, when he was 67 years old.

Princeton senior class picture. Found in the New York Times (6/19/1939) by Morty Berger.

Ashby Harper penned a “jaw-inspiring” article about the swim for Sports Illustrated.

Ashby Harper graduated from Princeton University in 1939, 63 years before I did. He was considered the best all-around athlete of the Class of ’39, earning nine varsity letters — in football, baseball, and (wait for it…) swimming. He trained in a pool that has been lost to history. Dillon Gym pool – considered the “old pool” when I was at Princeton, was not built until 1947. Ashby’s coach was Howie Stepp, whose 163 dual-meet win total was not surpassed until my coach, Rob Orr, came along.

Ashby Harper served as a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals.

Ashby Harper was headmaster of the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico for 20 years, and took up channel swimming upon his retirement in 1982.

Ashby Harper was the oldest person to swim the English Channel (E to F) from 1982 (when he broke Doc Counsilman’s record) until 2004, when George Brunstad swam the Channel at 70 years old.

Ashby Harper competed in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 1983, 1990, and 1991, at the ages of 66, 73, and 74. In his last MIMS, he was DFL – but still ahead of two DNFs!

Ashby Harper pursued the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming before the phrase even existed. He would have been the first to achieve it, but his Catalina Channel attempt in 1988 was called off halfway across.

Ashby Harper was described in an Associated Press article in 1988 as “at best… eccentric. At worst… crazy.” And also: “A better word to describe the stately gentleman with the barrel chest might be ‘remarkable.'”

Ashby Harper was inducted into the IMSHOF in 1984.

Ashby Harper was a decorated Masters swimmer, achieving 47 Top Tens in the pool and three All-American honors in the postal swims.

Ashby Harper died in 1992, of an apparent blood clot, just hours after finishing a one-mile Masters open-water race in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 75. His death merited an obituary in the New York Times.

Ashby Harper died doing what he loved. I wish I could take him out for a beer, or walk with him in the P-rade. He would be 95 now.

From the New York Times (11/15/1938). Found by Morty Berger.

6 Responses to “Who is Ashby Harper?”

  1. Sully

    2012-11-13T07:16:21+00:00

    Awesome post, awesome man. What will they say about you in 60 years?

    Reply
    • Evan

      2012-11-13T19:41:08+00:00

      Once upon a time he had a blog. Read by few; understood by fewer :)

      Reply
      • Sully

        2012-11-14T12:23:30+00:00

        We can do better than that:
        Evan Morrison, age 96 of Santa Barbara, passed away this weekend in Highland, UK. Morrison was attempting an unprecedented 30 mile swim from Iverness to Fort Augustus in sub 60 degree waters. His crew reports that the swim was well ahead of predicted pace when it suddenly ended near mile 20. The support crew reports a large, dark sea creature with long neck emerged behind the swimmer and carried him to the depths. Unfortunately the crew was unable to provide evidence of the attack – this was the one time Rob D. did not have a camera. A small service will take place in Morrison’s native town. His family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Driven IV.

        Reply
        • Evan

          2012-11-14T22:25:51+00:00

          This conversation has taken a morbid turn, but I have to admit, that is pretty good. Long Live Nessie.

          Reply
  2. Rob D.

    2012-11-13T09:06:55+00:00

    That SI article is fantastic… it also confirmed for me that they really called that lady Choo Choo at the SBCSA banquet.

    So in about 35 years can I crew your attempt to break his record?

    Reply

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