View Full Version : Bill Earley

July 5th, 2002, 12:06 PM
On 4 July during the Annual Coronado Rough Water Swim, Bill Earley died due to an apparent heart attack. Bill was 65 years old and quite active in masters swimming. Following is an article from the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Ex-SEAL, masters swimmer dies in Coronado rough-water event
Friend says he saw victim struggling
By Jen Brown July 5, 2002
Retired Navy SEAL Bill Earley was no stranger to the Coronado Rough Water Swim. The masters swimmer had competed in the Fourth of July event many times, but yesterday's was his last.

A Coronado Beach lifeguard pulled Earley's body from the water at the three-quarter-mile mark at 10:34 a.m. A team of lifeguards, firefighters and paramedics treated Earley for 28 minutes before he was taken to Sharp Coronado Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:28 a.m. He was 65.

"We are treating this right now as a possible drowning," said investigator Michael Ellano of the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office. "During the autopsy, if they don't find anything in his lungs, then it will probably be a cardiac event."

Longtime friend Don Baker said, "There's no way Bill Earley drowned." Baker said he swam past Earley at the quarter-mile buoy of the one-mile event and saw him struggling. "He was swimming backstroke, which is unusual because he's a good swimmer," Baker said. "His face was red and he said he was feeling really terrible." But Earley refused to let Baker go for help and insisted he swim on, Baker said.

Earley was an established member of the masters swimming community, and at the time of his death he was vice president of the Coronado Masters Swimming Association.
His swimming roots go back to his participation on the Yale University swim team, for which he specialized in backstroke events. After graduating with a degree in architecture from the Navy ROTC program at Yale in 1958, Earley continued his passion for swimming at the masters level.

He has held at least three masters age-group world records in the men's 200-meter freestyle relay and the mixed 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter medley relays. In 1973, Earley helped found the Coronado Masters Swimming Association and served as its first president. He also served as chairman of the legislative committee of the U.S. Masters national convention and was a delegate for 20 years.

"There's going to be a huge hole in the San Diego swimming community," Baker said. "He was very loyal, very generous, very warm, very patriotic."

Earley served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and retired as a commander after 27 years of service, his friends said. He continued to be active in organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Order of World Wars and the Navy League. He was the head lifeguard at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado and volunteered once a week at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista as a tour guide.

"He was very proud to be a part of that operation," friend David Lamott said. "He never missed a Tuesday afternoon. It was like a religion for him."

Lamott was shaken by his friend's death but took comfort in the fact that Earley died doing something he loved. "Swimming was his life," Lamott said. "There's no other way for him to go than . . . the way he went."

Earley is survived by a son, Morgan, of Escondido.

Sally Dillon
July 7th, 2002, 06:09 PM
Regarding Bill's untimely death:

I hope Don Baker doesn't mind my sharing the following statement he made about Bill.

"He told me just last week, when he died he wanted to be swimming. Today in the 4 th of July
1 mile Ocean race at Coronado, Bill suffered a heart attack during the race. He was pulled from the water by a paddler, administered O2 and a paramedic team applied the paddles to no
avail. He was pronounced dead upon arrival. A great patriot died on the Fourth of July."

I have no doubt that it was very traumatic for the race directors (and fellow swimmers) to lose someone during their event but I'm sure many of us can relate to Bill's wish to "die swimming". Bill was a wonderful and irreplaceable character in our large swimming family. His passion for swimming and everything related was probably only matched by his love of his country. Did he ever wear anything other than red, white and blue?

I will surely miss him!


Matt S
July 7th, 2002, 11:18 PM
One expects to be saddened when a close swimming friend passes away. What took my breath away was how much I was shocked to hear of "Wild Bill" Earley's death. Bill was and still is one of my USMS heroes. I'm tempted to refer to him as the "old man and the sea," but that would not be quite right. I guess I have always thought of Bill as ageless--neither old nor young. Ya, he swam in whatever age group the calendar said. But, when it came to summer friday evening swims in the ocean, or quaffing down a beer and pizza at the Venetian, or perpetually volunteering to serve on Coronado Masters' Board of Directors, or cajoling his teammates to compete in Zone or National Championships, or spending most of his days half naked--like all the other lifeguards--or composing limericks for the team party, or just plain swimming fast (the three times we swam a 200 IM in the same heat, he beat me all three times), Bill was in there living life with people half his age, and with a gusto that impressed everyone. I guess I'd always assumed he'd be there "forever," and one day we would notice he was challenging the 100-104 age group records. Guess not. The loss is heavy on those of us who were priviledged to share his company. Bill truly lived life the way he chose, and as other have observed, left it doing something he loved.

My fondest fantasy would be to revive the Around the Island Swim (ATIS) or Off the Island Swim (OTIS) in his honor. His pioneering efforts bringing those two races to life in the 80's and 90's would stand as an impressive acheivement in most people's lives. For Bill, of course, they would be a mere footnote in the story of his life. If that is not possible, I wonder if those of us who knew him could gather at Coronado Beach on some appointed evening for an ocean swim in his memory. I'm sure he'd join us, in some fashion, from wherever he is and make some ribald remark at our expense. And, we'd surely laugh at the "spirit" he intended.