Helen Johns (Carroll) was a gold medalist in the women’s 400-meter freestyle swim relay in 1932 at the Los Angeles Games in a world record time of 4:38. Helen is shown here (at left) with Albina Osipowich, who became a member of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame at its 1968 Olympic induction for winning two gold medals in swimming at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics (100-meter freestyle in world record time of 1:11 and the 400-meter freestyle relay).
Raised in Medford, Massachusetts, Helen Johns learned swimming from her father. She trained primarily in the ocean because there were few pools in the area. She came to the notice of Brown swimming coach, Jim McNamaree, in 1930. He predicted she would make the next Olympic team. During the 1930 season, Johns trained diligently and competed successfully in the New England Area. She Albina Osipowich’s record and became the New England. freestyle champion, all while she was still in high school. She finished fourth in the Olympic trials at Jones Beach and won a place on the United States team in the 10th Olympiad in Los Angeles in 1932. The U.S. women’s 400-meters relay team won its event in 4:38, breaking the world’s record in the process. That unit included Josephine McKim of Los Angeles, Helen Johns of Medford, Eleanor Gerrati-Saville of San Francisco, and world champion Helene Madison of Seattle.
Both Helen and Albina were members of the powerful 1932-33 Pembroke swimming team. A ruptured appendix sidelined Johns for the 1933 season. During the next three years, however, she was unbeatable in the freestyle events and as an anchor on the relay units. Johns went on to captain the team her senior season. She was also proficient in track. Johns graduated in the Pembroke Class of 1936 with a dual major in psychology and economics.
At the time of the summer Olympics in 2012, when young American female swimmers dominated the pool, Carroll was believed to be the second-oldest living female American gold medalist. Her memories of her Olympic experience remained fresh in her mind. She savors her role as a pioneering female athlete.
In 1957 Helen moved to South Carolina where she became a teacher of special education and received her masters degree in that field. She married Eugene J. Carroll and raised two daughters. Presently Helen, who carried the Olympic torch in 1996 en route to the Atlanta Games, resides in Sumter, South Carolina.