Phil Whitten (USA)

Honor Masters Contributor (2005)

The information on this page was written the year of their induction.

INTERNATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS: Editor-in-Chief of Swim, Swimming World and Swimming Technique since 1992; Producer of and Swimming World T.V.; Author of Complete Book of Swimming (1994); Masters swimming competitor since 1971; Promoter of Masters swimming;

Dr. Phillip Whitten, Editor-in-Chief of SWIM, Swimming World, and Swimming Technique magazines since 1992; since 1996; and as Chief Media Officer of Sports Publications International, the producer of the newly inaugurated Swimming World T.V., is one of the world’s leading advocates for the sport of swimming and for swimmers at all levels, from young age group to elite  Masters.

He was born in Philadelphia and spent most of his early years in New York in a Quonset hut and later in tenement apartments in the Bronx.  At age 13 and the oldest of four children, he moved with his family to California. Being an athletically inclined child, he went out for the junior varsity swim team at Livermore High School but missed the cut. Two years later he made the varsity team by the skin of his teeth. By his senior year, he became a nationally ranked breaststroker in the boy’s 15-16 age group in AAU swimming and led his high school team to an undefeated season, a league championship, and a strong showing at the North Coast championships.  At age 16, Phil ended his high school career as his school’s first All-American athlete, a National Merit and Westinghouse Science scholarship winner, and his class Salutatorian.

Phil attended San Jose State University and during his three years of varsity swimming, the Spartans were undefeated, beating Stanford, Cal, and Foothill College. He earned All-America honors and was elected co-captain in his senior year. In 1961, he represented the USA at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, winning a silver medal. While at San Jose, he became a leader of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements in both the Bay Area and nationally. He co-founded one of the first “underground newspapers” of the era, The New Student.

After earning a double bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in different disciplines from San Jose State, Phil won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he was elected President of the Harvard Graduate Student Association.  While working for the Harvard Center for the Study of Conflict and Social Change, he started two relief organizations that flew food and medical supplies to refugees and ended up saving 3000 children from war torn Nigeria. A field hospital established by Phil to treat refugee children in the Ivory Coast became one of the largest hospitals in West Africa.

Phil returned to California, taking a job as Associate Publisher of CRM Inc., a small, innovative publishing company.  Eight months later, he was named Publisher, and when CRM opened a film division, Phil was appointed Executive Producer. The division produced four educational films in its first year, two of which won coveted awards as the year’s best and most innovative educational films. Then, with other CRM executives, Phil moved to Connecticut to found a new publishing company, eventually acquired by CBS.

Phil chose to be a stay-at-home dad and worked as a freelance writer and editor while raising his son, Russell. He completed his doctoral dissertation, and contributed to many magazines including Swimming World. He took teaching jobs at Endicott College, Bentley College and then Harvard University, while still continuing to write. At Bentley and Harvard he won outstanding teaching awards.

Phil joined Masters Swimming in December 1971 and has trained regularly since then. An active member of New England Masters, he served on the board for more than a dozen years. He also began writing more about Masters swimming as he came to understand the revolutionary potential the activity held for lifelong health and fitness. Along the way he set several national and world Masters records in the 40-44, 45-49, and 50-54 age groups.

In 1978, he wrote a feature story on Masters swimming for the mass-circulated “Parade” magazine, a supplement to hundreds of Sunday newspapers across the U.S. The article was so popular that US Masters president Ted Haartz recounts how 13,000 letters, requesting additional information, arrived at Haartz’s doorstep. Eventually, over 30,000 letters found their way to Ted. It took a team of volunteers five months to answer all the questions.

In 1991, he published the first results of a longitudinal study of Masters swimming using data that went back to 1975. In this study, he discovered that Masters swimmers did not experience the average one percent per year physiological decline that begins in most of the population at age 25. Masters swimmers actually improved until age 32 or 33, then declined very gradually, not reaching one percent decline until their seventies! Phil’s study showed physiological decline to be the consequence of an inactive lifestyle, not just natural aging.

In 1992 Phil accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of Sports Publications which publishes Swimming World, Swimming Technique and the newly acquired magazine for Masters swimmers, SWIM.

Phil has remained swimming’s most persistent advocate, maintaining that this is the sport of a lifetime. Since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, he has continued to swim and compete, maintaining that swimming was key in forestalling the progression of the disease. A study published in October 2004, was the first to corroborate the link between regular exercise and forestalling the progression of Parkinson’s.

Over the years, Phil has authored or co-authored 18 books and 600 major articles on a wide variety of topics, and has appeared on television (including the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Dateline,” etc.) and radio (including a recent series on NPR) and lectured throughout the United States and overseas on swimming, fitness, health and the aging process. He has published pioneering studies on exercise, aging and sexuality, and on the effects of exercise in forestalling biological and psychological aging. Among others, some of his articles include issues of the Chinese doping scandal, effects of Title IX, minorities in swimming, East German drug mis-use, swimming and academic performance and more.