Jane Asher was born in 'Nkana, Northern Rhodesia, in 1931, but grew up in South Africa. She loved the water and having swimming access anytime, anywhere. At the age of 22, she moved to Britain to take a post-graduate diploma in personnel management at Manchester University in 1953. She swam on the university swim team and was selected to compete at the World University Games, but was unable to attend the meet.
Swimming was becoming her life's passion. Although there were no more competitions for her personally in the mid-1950s, she began coaching the school children of her new home town area in Norwich.
Asher realized the swimming advantage she had as a child living in South Africa. The children of Britain did not have the same access to water privileges as she had. During World War II and shortly before her arrival, Britain's beaches were covered with barbed wire, and with what few pools there were, pool swimming time was at a premium. Asher started to work as a teacher and coach of school children in her area, beginning with the very basics of the sport.
In her early coaching days, her family lived in a small country village where Robbie, her husband, was the veterinarian. The local high school had a small pool that was 8x16 yards. She started a small club for children and was also working as the coach of the county team three evenings a week. Children from outlying villages came into Norwich for training sessions at the Long Stratton School and Swimming Club.
During the next ten years, Asher coached at the Norwich Penguins and then in 1980 at her own private, non-profit making training sessions at the Norwich High School. She called it the JETS (Jane's Extra Training School) and children came from miles around. While parents waited for their children during training sessions, Asher thought they could spend their time better in the water than on poolside. Thus began the nucleus of the first Masters swim club of the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) of Great Britain.
Asher became the catalyst and organized the setting up of the East Anglian Swallow Tail (EAST) Club, named for a butterfly which only breeds in Norwich. Many of the swimmers not only were coached by Asher in this new club; they had been coached by her years before in high school.
In 1992, Jane and a few EAST members successfully ran a seminar specifically for Masters. Since then, Asher has been asked to do seminars all over the country. She started a training camp in the French Alps - maybe the first for Masters at high altitude. As she says, "My specialty is technique. The fitness comes from climbing up and down the steps to the pool!"
Nearly everything Asher does for Masters swimming is on a voluntary basis. Swimmers pay for the pool hire and arrange their own transport and accommodation. She feels the camaraderie gained is full compensation for any effort on her behalf. But while Asher is doing all this for others, she is also unselfishly doing for herself what her swimmers are reaching to get – world success in swimming.
Since 1986, Asher has set 49 FINA Masters World Records in the freestyle, individual medley, backstroke and sprint butterfly events in the 55-59 through 70-74 age groups. She has won gold medals 26 times at FINA Masters World Championships, 36 golds at Masters European Championships, six at Masters Pan Pacific Championships, and 95 at British Masters National Championships.
She has set 76 Masters European Championship records and 117 British Masters national records. She has gold medals at the National Championships of Britain, Scotland, Wales, France, and Holland. When she turned 70 in 2001, she traveled through Britain and other parts of Europe to try to swim every long and short course event available.
The results? She broke all the British records and a whole lot of World and European records, too. Even after total hip replacement in 2002, her times continue to drop, proving there is life after surgery. Asher has received the Cherriman Trophy for service to Masters Swimming. She has provided great strides in promoting Masters Swimming as a swimmer, coach, clinician, organizer and enthusiast in Britain, European and world swimming.