2017 Swimmer of the Year – Dotty Burke


From a speech given by Carie O’Banion honoring Dotty Burke at the 2017 Swimmer of the Year banquet:

My 85 year old mother takes great pleasure in telling people that her daughter is a “master swimmer.”  While I hate to burst her proud motherly bubble, I am always quick to point out that masters swimmer simply means 1) you are 18 or older and 2) you have paid your annual USMS registration fee!   Regardless, I am still proud to be one of the nearly 70,000 USMS swimmers in our country.  Some of us swim for just for fitness, others to compete, and a growing number are triathletes who are looking to improve that dreaded swimming portion of the race.

Now, let me ask you…  Raise your hand if you’ve swam a 400 IM in a meet.  Not an easy event, is it?  Well, one year ago, I attended the annual Hall of Fame meet, and that’s where I met Dotty Burke. Among other events, she swam the 400 IM (probably set a record).  Dotty doesn’t know this yet, but she inspired me to swim my first 400IM in a meet last November.  I figured, if someone 20 years older than me could do it, I had no excuse.

Let me tell you just a little bit about our masters swimmer honoree:

Dotty Burke did not swim as a young child, or in high school, and certainly not in college.  Her entry into the sport began in 1976 when she was driving her daughter Kelly to summer swim team practice in St.  Louis.  Her daughter’s coach suggested that she get in the pool and do the workouts with the kids because the USMS Long Course National meet was going to be held at their club that summer. So, she did, and amazingly, at that meet, she placed in the Top Ten in 3 events (2nd in 100 Breast, 4th in 200 Breast, and 9th in 100 Back).  Not bad for a novice swimmer, huh?

Even more amazing is the fact that she now holds 183 Top Ten USMS records!

Dotty’s swimming highlights include:

  • Becoming a 3-time All American:
  • In  1984 and 1985 for the 200 breaststroke
  • In 2010 for the 400IM and 200 Breastroke
  • In 2016 for the 200 IM
  • In 1985, she placed 1st in three events and 1 relay at the World Masters Game in Toronto, Canada
  • In 1988 her team (the Holmes Lumber Jax Swim Team from Florida) won 1st place at the World Masters Swim Meet in Brisbane, Australia
  • At another World Masters Games in Portland Oregon,  in 1998, she placed 2nd in the 400 IM (placed top 5 in all other events).

After dropping out of competition for several years, she moved to Hot Springs Village in 2004 and began swimming again.  In 2007, she also became actively involved in the Tri-The-Village Triathlon, acting as head of Water/Safety and helping beginners with their swimming skills.

At age 77, Dotty Burke is not slowing down.  Her current goals are to 1) break as many Arkansas Masters swimming records as she can (she currently holds 53!), and 2) to achieve a total of 200 Top Ten Times.  I have no doubt that she will meet that goal.

Dotty has her husband Max.  She has a daughter Kelly,  who swam on scholarship at Kansas University and still competes in triathlons. She also has a son, Pat who played football at Colorado State. Clearly there are some athletic genes in the family.


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