Roy Webster: To Swim and Not Be Weary

“Roy Webster: To Swim and Not Be Weary,” Ensign, Jan. 1990, 68–69

Roy Webster: To Swim and Not Be Weary

At eighty-seven, Roy Webster is more than just a casual fitness buff. Roy swims half a mile three days a week, and on the days in between he lifts weights. He celebrated his eightieth birthday by jogging six miles, swimming three, and then going six rounds in the ring against a boxing coach.

Such feats would bring anyone his age plenty of notoriety. But what Roy Webster is best known for in his hometown of Hood River, Oregon, where he farmed apples and pears for thirty years, is the “Roy Webster Columbia River Cross-Channel Swim.”

The event, sponsored by the Hood River Chamber of Commerce, is now held on Labor Day weekend and attracts some 350 participants, who swim 1.1 miles across the river. The idea began back in 1942, when Roy first moved there from New York and decided to swim across the river. It became an annual tradition that gradually attracted more and more people.

His aquatic interests took on a new dimension about twelve years ago when a swimming coach noticed Roy working out at a pool in Portland and suggested that the then 75-year-old was good enough to compete in swimming meets. The coach was right—Roy’s first competition yielded five gold medals. Since then, he has competed in so many races and won so many medals and trophies that he gives them away to his twenty grandchildren.

A few years ago, his doctor advised him against swimming in the 67-degree Hood River due to the risk of hypothermia, so he stopped. “It’s not too difficult for distance,” says the slender, fit octogenarian, “but the cold gives me chills.”

In 1988, Brother Webster was asked to be the grand marshal of the Labor Day event, handing out certificates as swimmers reached the shore. In a poem he wrote for the occasion, he refers to the event as “not a race, not a contest, just an achievement.”

His own life is exemplary of such achievement. He has only two regrets after all those years spent in pools and rivers: he never learned the butterfly stroke, and he can’t do flip turns.—Bryant R. Larsen, Holladay, Utah

Photo by Tamera Willey