A young Karen Muir.
A young Karen Muir.

'Tepid Torpedo' Karen Muir remembered

By Sarah Evans Time of article published Apr 3, 2013

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Kimberley - Tributes have poured in for world-famous swimming champion, Karen Muir (de Graad), who died at the age of 60 on Monday night after a prolonged battle with breast cancer.

Muir, nicknamed the “Tepid Torpedo”, was born and raised in Kimberley and became the youngest person to break a sporting world record in any sporting discipline when she broke the backstroke world record at the age of 12.

The Karen Muir Swimming Pool in Kimberley was named after her.

In August last year, news reports indicated that Muir had been diagnosed with end stage breast cancer, following reports in January that the cancer had spread. She was diagnosed in 2009 and lived in Canada.

Muir retired from professional swimming in 1970 and went on to qualify as a medical doctor. She later practiced medicine across the African continent.

She was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1980, even though she never able to participate in the Olympic Games, because South African sport was internationally boycotted during apartheid.

Muir set 15 world records in backstroke, won 22 South African championships, as well as three US championships.

On Tuesday, the spokesman for the Sol Plaatje Municipality, Sello Matsie, said her death should be used to promote swimming, especially among girls.

“We were aware that she was not well for some time now. At this moment we wish to express our condolences to her family and friends. She remains, even in death, an icon, and one of the city’s most honoured residents. It is especially important that we continue honouring her through the sport that she loved. We should use her passing to promote swimming, especially among girls.

“The Karen Muir Swimming Pool has been revamped and it remains the only Olympic-sized pool in the city. The name Karen Muir in Kimberley will live on,” Matsie said.

Spokesman for the Office of the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture, Vaughan Settley, said Muir had “motivated the world”.

“We would like to offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family. It is a great loss to the younger generation who looked up to her as a role model. As a Province, we are proud to have had someone like her representing us. Her memory is an inspiration to up-and-coming swimmers in the country.”

He added that the Karen Muir Swimming Pool remained a significant testament to her legacy. “The swimming pool has her name. It is not just a name. It is someone who has motivated the world, especially the youth,” Settley said.

The Northern Cape Aquatic Sports Association also offered their sympathies to Muir’s family in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are truly saddened by Karen’s death. She was an amazing person, always so kind and considerate. Her passing will leave a void in the hearts of every Northern Cape swimmer participating at the Karen Muir Swimming Pool. Karen’s memory will always remain deep within our hearts.

“Our sincere thoughts and prayers are with her family. May your memories bring you comfort.”


* September 16 1952: Karen Muir is born in Kimberley

* August 10 1965: 12-year-old Muir becomes the youngest person of any sporting discipline in the world to break a world record, by swimming the 110 yards backstroke in one minute 08.7 seconds at the British Amateur Junior Championships in Blackpool, England.

* 1964 to1992: South Africa is banned from international sport as part of international boycotts against apartheid. Muir cannot participate in the Olympic Games.

* 1965 to1970: Muir sets 15 more world records in backstroke. She also wins the South African swimming championships 22 times and becomes a US champion, three times.

* 1970: Muir matriculates from the Diamantveld High School in Kimberley and retires from competitive swimming. She enrolls at the University of the Free State and later graduates as a medical doctor. By 1970, the South African Swimming and Sport Hall of Fame said she had “rewritten every backstroke record”.

* 1973: Muir’s 100 metre backstroke world record is broken.

* 1980: Muir is elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

* 2000: Muir moves to Canada.

* 2009: Muir is diagnosed with breast cancer. She returns to Kimberley for a visit, where she hands over her Springbok blazer to the Diamantveld High School.

* September 2009: Muir reportedly suffers a heart attack near her home in Canada.

* January 2012: Muir’s cancer spreads. Doctors say she has mere months left to live.

* August 2012: It is confirmed that Muir has end-stage breast cancer.

* April 1 2013: Muir dies of breast cancer.

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