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Unbreakable bond spans a century

4 Jacksonville men swim together, have saved each other

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's a story that started in the 1930s with four young men who grew up in Avondale and went to Fletcher and Lee high schools. They barely knew each other when they started swimming at their schools.

"I met tiger for the first time when he and I swam for the first time in a Bolles High School meet," said Bill Adams.

Rogers "Tiger" Holmes was the star. He went on to captain the University of Florida swim team.

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"I swam there before and after World War II  and won the Southeastern Conference Championship," Tiger said.

Ed Graves swam 4 years at Georgia Tech while John Corse turned to the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy.

"I met John for the first time when I was on the Duke swimming team and we swam at the Navy," said Bill.

The four went on with their lives.  They all joined the military and started their careers and families -- and left swimming in the past.

"I hadn't been in the pool for 20 years, 60 years," said John.

But that would change in the 1970s when Tiger got some news.

"I had a heart bypass operation 40 years ago and my doctor told me I had better get into a regular exercise program," Tiger explained.

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So he got back into the water.  He had never lost touch with John, so the two started swimming again together.  And around 2006 or 2007, none of them know for sure, they reconnected with Bill and Ed.

"Well, we met through Tiger," said John. "He's the master swimmer of the year, of the decade, of the century I guess.  And he got us all together."

The four were finally back in the pool together.

"It's probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  It changed my life," said Bill.

"It's done wonderful things," said John. "I'm still having a little trouble getting enough endurance with air.  But after I got out of the Naval Academy, I hadn't done any swimming for 60 years."

The swimming started at NAS Jacksonville where the Skipper gave them these passes that essentially gives them access to the base pool for life.

"We swim three

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days a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday," said Ed.

But then it went even further.  These men, who qualified for AARP benefits when Carter was President, started competing.  In fact, they hold two world records.

"We went to Greensboro, North Carolina in 2012 and set the world record by 30 seconds in that one.  We were competing in 85 to 89-year-old age group at that time because we were much younger," explained John.

They won a lot, and they are proud of how they're able to do it.

"It's really easy to pick up medals in a relay because while there's a lot of good individual swimmers in our age group, they don't have anybody else to swim with.  So we have the advantage of being together and rare in that respect," explained Bill.

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At a meet last year with former Olympian Rowdy Gaines, they set a world record for the 90-plus age group. John and Ed were both 90 and Tiger was 93.  But they are not all in their 90s. Bill is 88. But, if you add up their ages, it's more than 360.

"You can be in the relay if the combination of the relay is 360.  So some of the people here who are a lot older than I am made up for my not being 90," explained Bill.

And it's been tournament after tournament where they've won medal after medal. But if you're keeping track, it's Tiger that has the most.  However, he doesn't really keep them all.

"Once you win them, I don't know what the hell you do with them afterwards," Tiger added.

As they list off some of their ailments and surgeries, the four credit their reunion in the pool and the workouts they get, for keeping them alive this long.

"I have neuropathy in my legs which gives me cramps," said Bill.

"I had a heart bypass operation," said Tiger.

"Crushed lower 40% of my lower vertebrate," said John.

" I have had an aortic valve transplant," added Bill.

"Of course at this age we've got so many aches and pains, so many doctors to go to," Ed said.

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News4Jax went along with Tiger to the Mayo Clinic.  He needed new batteries in the pacemaker that helped him get back in the water.

"He's been through a lot but he keeps having a lot of different procedures and making it through every single time," said Tiger's daughter, Mary Roebuck.

Both Mary and Tiger's doctor, Dan Hardigan, credit Tiger's swimming for saving his life.

"I think the exercise itself in keeping his body mass index down and percentage body fat down and his overall conditioning, I know that's why he's still here," the Mayo Clinic physician added.

Six weeks after Tiger's procedure, he was back in the water with the boys.

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"Swimming has been good for my health and I want to keep at it for the rest of my life," he said.

"I think I'm much more active now then I was before," added Ed.

"We've reached the age when instead of saying, 'You're good looking,' they say, You're looking good,'" explained John.

All four men, particularly Tiger, are huge supporters of swimming in Jacksonville.  For years, Tiger has been pushing for the City of Jacksonville to build a better swimming facility for local youth. He tells News4Jax he funded a 12-minute movie years ago to promote that idea, but he couldn't make it past the city council.  And even today, it's something he's passionate about and still hopes to get a better swimming facility built in the River City.


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