Master swimmers Maurine Kornfeld, 97, left, greets her pal Errol Graham, right, with a big hug during the USMS Spring National Championship at Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa, Arizona, in April. Maurine routinely swims at several pools in the Los Angeles area and she knows Errol from the West Hollywood Aquatics pool. Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS
Photo: Francine Orr
Photo: Francine Orr

97-year-old Swims in a lane of her own

Woman blossomed into a world champion late in life.

Some people are born great, while others have greatness thrust upon them. So they say. Maurine Kornfeld sidled up to greatness in her own sweet time, letting it wash over her, while she paid attention to more important things.

Now the retired social worker, who didn’t swim her first serious lap until just before her 60th birthday, holds 16 age-group world records, 26 U.S. bests and dozens of national championship titles. Recently, at the U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship, the late bloomer from the Hollywood Hills bagged six more titles.

At 97, Mo Kornfeld is the oldest active member of the 64,000-member U.S. Masters Swimming. The menagerie of former high school and college swimmers, onetime Olympians and aquatic latecomers swim for fitness and — if so inclined — in regional, national and international competitions.

Her teammates on Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Masters swim team will regale you with stories of “Mighty Mo” — her ability to navigate two freeways to make workouts, her obliteration of most world records in the 95-99 age group, and the lowdown on the time she humbled a Frenchwoman who dared claim that she would be the dominant nonagenarian at the 2017 World Championships.

“That’s all very nice,” Kornfeld said of the effusive praise. “But, I mean, it’s only swimming. It’s not going to change the course of world events.”

She’s lived by herself most of her life, but is constantly seeking new connections. She relentlessly turns the conversation back to others — their work, their families, their travels. “People who are self-involved miss a lot in life,” she said. “Don’t you think?”

She’s too modest to suggest she will leave some legacy. But poking around her home, she makes a point of showing a candleholder she received in her girlhood, when the Camp Fire Girls promoted her to the highest rank, Torch Bearer.

The Torch Bearer believes the admonition she was given eight decades ago is worth remembering. “That light that has been given to me,” it said, “I desire to be given undimmed to others.”

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