SPORTS

Record-breaking South African swimmer who became B.C. doctor dies of cancer

04/02/2013 05:24 EDT | Updated 06/02/2013 05:12 EDT
One of the greatest swimmers from South Africa never to compete at the Olympics has died after spending the last part of her life as a doctor in the central British Columbia town of Vanderhoof.

"She'll be sadly missed," Mayor Gerry Thiessen said Tuesday of swimming legend Karen Muir, who died Monday at the age of 60 after a long battle with breast cancer.

He said she had remained in Vanderhoof until quite recently but he believed she returned to South Africa just before her death, which was reported Tuesday by South African media. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

Muir became the youngest official world record-holder in swimming history in 1965 at the age of 12, when she recorded a time of one minute 8.7 seconds for the 110-yard backstroke.

She was also thought at the time to be the youngest athlete to hold a world record in any sport and she went on to set 15 world records before retiring in 1968.

In 1980, she was voted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but because of the ban on South Africa over its apartheid policy, she was never allowed to compete at the Olympics.

She went on to become a family physician, eventually settling in Vanderhoof, a town of around 4,500 that also serves as a regional hub for more than twice that number in central B.C.

"I'm just going to guess she was here about 15 years," said Thiessen. "She was very much part of the town."

He said she enjoyed the outdoors and had a passion for quilting and never let on how famous she had been as a young athlete.

Instead, he said that knowledge came from other doctors in the community who came from South Africa and knew all about her exploits.

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