Muriel Mason has swum all her life. She could swim as soon as she could walk and by the time she was twelve was swimming across the Thames from Walton to Sunbury and back before she went to school - and she was swimming on the afternoon she celebrated her 100th birthday. She waited in for the Queen's telegram, but by 14.00 on Friday June 22nd she was in Walton-on-Thames' Excel swimming pool, back-stroking for half an hour in a ten-lengths sponsored swim which will make more than £2,000 for the lifeboat in Selsey, West Sussex, to be handed over at a special ceremony at the inshore lifeboat station, Selsey, at 14.30 on Monday July 9th. Making a sponsored swim for charity at the age of 100 is achievement enough, but what makes this feat even more incredible is that Muriel had her right leg amputated above the knee in January.
That this indomitable lady is alive is a miracle because she was rushed to St. Peter's Hospital, Chertsey in January with two blood clots, one in her right leg and another in her groin. The surgeons did not want to operate because there was a less than 50/50 chance that a woman her age would survive the surgery. The prognosis was grim because if the clots could not be dispersed gangrene would set it and Muriel would have died within a month, in any case. Muriel had other plans: "Get on with it", she told the surgeon, "I've got a sponsored swim for the RNLI in June and I have to be be well enough by then."
The surgeon was dubious and told her that many people of her age might not survive the surgery. He then asked her whether she wanted to be resuscitated if she died on the operating table. Muriel, well known for her zest for life, replied immediately: "Of course I do. I haven't got time to die, I've got too much to do!"
Muriel's daughter, Jo Wainwright, who’s a spritely septuagenarian, was not surprised by her mother's attitude. "Only one adjective can accurately describe my mother – indomitable."
Muriel, who lives with her daughter, Jo, in The Furrows, Walton-on-Thames, was born in the riverside town in 1912. She has always been a keen swimmer, and regularly swam across the river before she went to school. In those days the river was much cleaner than it is now.
There were not many opportunities for young ladies after the first world war, so Muriel worked in the post office, attending Evening Classes to gain the qualifications necessary to become a Local Government Officer. She retired at 60.
She married and had two children, daughter Jo, and a son, Kenneth. Muriel was deserted by her husband during the war, and raised two children on her own. She solved the cash flow problem by working for the local authority during the day, and by sewing beautiful embroidery,sold in Harrods, between 10 o'clock at night and two in the morning. There was never a grumble. "Life is full of problems," she says," you just have to get on with it. There's no point in whingeing."
Jo got married in 1970 to a keen sailor and it's at this point that Muriel's interest in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution surfaced. "Mum became fascinated by the RNLI and began to collect money for the Lifeboats throughout the year. When my husband died, we started to holiday in Selsey where there is also a Lifeboat Station, and we decided to support that."(Top of page)
Muriel and Jo have always supported worthy causes. Jo has worked as a swimming instructor all her life, and also as a Guide Company leader. Jo told us: "Mum use to swim on her front, but with most of her right leg now missing, she found she swam in circles, so she now has to swim on her back. She's invented a stroke which depends mainly on her arms, which carries her through the water quite well. She will never give in."
One further problem, the Excel pool does not allow diving, and with only one leg, Muriel was more than a hop, skip and a jump from the water. So, on Friday she entered and left the water with the help of a hoist.
Muriel was accompanied throughout the Friday swim by her daughter Jo, and also by one of her doctors, Tim Bates, who's impressed by her achievement. "Most people, at her age, would have given up in January, but Muriel has grit, determination and the will to succeed. She's a classic example of how special people can live to be 100." Also in the water were Muriel's granddaughter, Debbie Cox, plus other friends and relatives. There was a flotilla of a dozen people in the pool supporting Muriel, who will hand over the money from the sponsored swim at a special ceremony at the Selsey Lifeboat Station on July 9th.
P.S. In the end, Muriel raised £4,500 and on the 19th September presented the Lifeboat Coxswain, Martin Rudwick, with another £500, bringing the total she raised to a magnificent £5000!
Martin presented her with a framed photo of the Voluntary Worker signed by all the crew members. She then sat in her wheelchair on the sea wall and watched both boats being launched for practice night.
Muriel said "I intend doing something for my 105th birthday to raise more money for Selsey Lifeboat."(Top of page)