Helen Johns Carroll, 99, a swimmer who helped the U.S. women's Olympic team win gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay at the 1932 Summer Games in Los Angeles, died Wednesday at a nursing home in Sumter, S.C., her family said.
Then known as Helen Johns, at 17 she swam the second leg of the relay on Aug. 12, 1932, at the Olympic swimming stadium adjacent to the Coliseum. The four team members — Johns, Josephine McKim, Eleanor Saville-Garatti and Helene Madison — set what was then a world record with a time of 4 minutes 38 seconds. The Dutch team won silver and the British won bronze. The current women's world record is 3:30.98, set by an Australian team Thursday at the Commonwealth Games.
Johns Carroll recalled her Olympic experiences 80 years later in a 2012 interview with the Providence (R.I.) Journal.
"It was a very bad time in the Depression," she said. "I got to Los Angeles and saw real poverty. I saw signs in windows: Beds 10 Cents a Night. ... I looked around and saw people were in deep trouble, people were selling apples on the corner for five cents apiece. I was just 17, and looking at these things was sad. We ourselves were relatively well-to-do at the time."
Born Sept. 25, 1914, she grew up in Medford, Mass., a suburb of Boston, and as a child she swam in the ocean on family excursions. After her older sister became a physical education teacher in Brookline, Mass., she began swimming there and with a Brookline swim team.
After the Olympics, she attended Pembroke College, the women's college affiliated with Brown University in Providence, R.I., and majored in psychology and economics. She graduated in 1936.
While there, she married Eugene Carroll, a textile manager, and they moved to Sumter in 1957. She received a master's degree in education from the University of South Carolina. She taught special education in South Carolina for 15 years and set up a swimming program for handicapped children, which is still operating today.
In 1996, at 81, she was a torchbearer for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.