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Coogee’s Little Swimming ‘Legend’ Passes

By Ben Graham on August 6, 2013 in News

Photo: Todd Mison

Photo: Todd Mison

Prolific Coogee swimmer and dedicated coach Keith “Coo” Little has passed away aged 93.

Coo made his mark on the swimming world by dominating the Masters Winter Swimming competition from its inception in 1976 until he was in his early 80s.

He claimed its National Age Champion gold medal 26 times and was only beaten once, in 1989, due to illness.

The tireless racer was still going strong in his mid-seventies, when he became the fastest man in the world for his age by blitzing a 50m sprint in about 33 seconds.

As well as making a splash with his swimming abilities, Coo went on to inspire thousands of local children during his lengthy spell as a swimming coach.

It is believed that Coo taught around 3000 children to swim over the 40 years of his daily sessions at the Coogee RSL pool in Carr Street and Wylie’s Baths.

Todd Mison, once a pupil of Coo’s, reckons that Mr Little could have made a killing by charging for his services but that he never earned a cent for his time and dedication.

“As a 5 year-old I pictured Coo as the fittest looking 50 year-old you would ever see,” Mr Mison recalled.

“We all still love the sport and will carry with us fond memories of his shrieking natural whistle and being dragged out of the pool by one arm to ‘do it again until it is right’.”

His other swimming achievements include winning the AIF 50m Swimming Championships in 1946, which he continued to win through until 2003, undefeated at 83 years of age.

Coo was born on July 18, 1920 and, before becoming a titan in the swimming world, he fought in World War II.
The conflict took him to the Middle East, where he battled alongside four of his brothers. Miraculously, all four siblings made it home unscathed.

During his time as a swimmer and a coach, Coo was renowned amongst his contemporaries for his tough no frills personality and he also strictly abstained from smoking and drinking.

Coogee resident Aiden Hall said that Coo’s guidance and enthusiasm in swimming had inspired him to take to the seas and pursue a career in scuba diving instructing.

“He lived, ate and breathed swimming,” said Mr Hall. “He was so passionate about getting our technique right, which is vital for kids who go on to become strong swimmers.”

“More than that, he instilled a sense of confidence and passion in his pupils which stayed with me for life.” Mr Hall added.

Coo had a 79-year membership to the Coogee Surf Club, making him the oldest surviving member.

He was also a Foundation and Life Member of the Coogee Penguins Winter Swimming Club, and Life Member of Coogee RSL Club (now Coogee Diggers), Coogee Randwick Amateur Swimming Club and Wylie’s Baths Trust.

Coo passed away on June 19 having spent the last years of his life in Heathcote Nursing Home, alongside his brother.
Todd Mison said that the term ‘legend’ is used too loosely nowadays but that Coo had earned legendary status though his endeavours.

“He was a Hero Digger and unassuming lifelong champion swimmer and coach who has left his mark on thousands of Coogee families throughout the years,” Mr Mison said.

“We all loved Coo and his lovely wife Marge who are now both gone but will never be forgotten.”