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.

A movie that deserves to be made

At the SBCSA annual banquet this past weekend, Ben Pitterle and Brian Hall showed a brand-new trailer for their independent documentary film about marathon swimming, DRIVEN. The film features three swims across the Santa Barbara Channel this past summer – including my Santa Cruz Island swim.

See for yourself:

Driven Trailer from Element 8 Productions on Vimeo.

They just started an online fundraising campaign, which will continue for the next 30 days.

THE FUNDRAISING PAGE IS HEREThere are various “perks” available in return for your contributions – including a listing in the closing credits for only $100.

On a personal note…

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog over the past nearly three years – perhaps occasionally to the detriment of my career and personal life. I’ve never made any money from it (just a few affiliate commissions). Indeed, I continuously lose money to web hosting fees.

It’s a labor of love – love for swimming, and love for writing.

Similarly, this film is a labor of love for Ben and Brian. If they end up making any money from it, it probably won’t be much, and certainly paltry compensation for the countless hours they’ve put into it.

And that’s assuming it even gets made – it may not. Filmmaking (especially good filmmaking) is expensive. Ben and Brian are not financed by a studio. They’re not personally wealthy. They are depending on the open-water swimming community to come together and make this happen. It’s the story of three swimmers; but really, it’s all of our stories.

If you’ve ever gotten anything out of this blog – a useful tip, or a moment of inspiration – this is one very meaningful way you can pay it forward. 

I admit, there’s a certain selfish desire to see my swim (a life-changing experience) on the big screen. But Cherie, Fiona, and I are merely vectors for a larger story about an incredible, extreme, yet largely anonymous sport. The story will be told not just by us, but also through interviews with, among others: David Yudovin, Ned Denison, and Steve Munatones.

And the main character isn’t a person, but rather a place – the Santa Barbara Channel, one of the richest and most beautiful marine environments on Earth.

Please consider helping make this film a reality. Even $10 – if contributed by every email and RSS subscriber of this blog – would make a substantial dent in their unmet funding needs.

Thanks for reading.

www.indiegogo.com/driventhemovie

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