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95-year-old Kalis Rasmussen wins first ever female Masters Swimming Excellence Award

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By Rebecca Cheverton

They say age is just a number and that has never been more true for masters swimmer Kalis Rasmussen. The 95-year-old, from Toronto, broke eight masters world records this past year in the 95-99 age division. This incredible feat has made her the first ever recipient of the Swimming Canada female Masters Swimming Excellence Award.

The new annual Swimming Canada Masters awards honour masters swimmers, coaches and volunteers with three different awards. The Masters Swimming Excellence Award went to Kalis Rasmussen (female) and Pablo Conde (Male), the Excellence in Coaching Award went to Gaël Chaubet and the Long Term Contribution Award went to Charlie Lane.

These awards were scheduled to be presented at the 2020 Canadian Masters Swimming Championships in May, but due to the global pandemic the event was cancelled. That hasn’t stopped Swimming Canada from recognizing the incredible masters swimming community online.

The Masters Swimming Excellence Award is presented to masters swimmers who have demonstrated consistent and outstanding results at the highest levels of competition in masters swimming.

Pablo Conde, from the Maitres à Contre-Courant club in Montreal, has definitely proven that. Conde has been swimming masters since 2002 and has achieved two Canadian records and seventeen Quebec records since joining.

“[I] was very surprised and very honoured to receive the award,” said Conde. “There are so many strong masters swimmers in Canada, I was happy to just be considered.”

Conde has been recognized by the Quebec Swimming Federation for best male Masters Swimmer six times in the past ten years. He has a lot of experience competing both nationally and internationally, as he has participated in the Canadian Masters Swimming Championships six times and also competed at the FINA Masters World Championships in 2014 and 2017.

In addition to his swim career, he is also very involved as his club’s registrar, making sure that all the swimmers are registered in the Swimming Canada system.

“Masters swimming is not about the next month or even the upcoming season,” said Conde. “It is above all a fun way to get into shape, make new friends and enjoy life.”

Rasmussen, who swims for the Etobicoke Olympium Masters Aquatic Club (EOMAC) was the female recipient of the Swimming Excellence Award. At 95, she has her name on 20 Canadian records in the 85-89 and 90-94 age groups in addition to her masters world records.

Originally from Denmark, Rasmussen began swimming at the age of eight but had to stop due to World War II. She moved to Canada as a young adult and only began swimming again once she retired. Rasmussen began competing again in the year 2000 at the age of 76.

When asked why she decided to start swimming again she simply said she needed something to do.

“I was bored,” laughed Rasmussen. “I had to do something when I wasn’t working anymore.”

Rasmussen, who trains three to four times a week, set five short-course masters world records at the Ontario Masters Provincial Championships in April 2019. She claimed the records in the 50, 100, and 200-m backstroke, and the 50 and 200-m breaststroke. Later in the year, she was at it again claiming three long-course world records in the 50, 100, and 200-m breaststroke.

“What it means to our club, is the same thing it means to everyone, she’s just an inspiration,” said Mirko Petrov, President of EOMAC and a good friend of Rasmussen. “Kalis is a breast cancer survivor too […] she just keeps going and she battles through everything life presents to her with a smile on her face.”

Rasmussen has also competed on the international stage at the 2017 FINA Masters World Championships in Hungary and won the 100 and 200-m breaststroke in the 90-94 age division.

“She just enjoys life and loves to have fun, said Petrov. “After one of her races I said, ‘Do you want to go get water? and she goes, ‘I don’t drink water, how about a beer?’ ”

Rasmussen says it’s not just about the swimming though, it’s about the people she swims with too.

“Life is life and I enjoy whatever I’m doing and I try to be as nice as I can,” said Rasmussen.

Gaël Chaubet, who coaches the masters swim team at the Downtown Swim Club (DSC) in Toronto, was awarded the Excellence in Coaching Award.

The Excellence in Coaching Award is given annually to a coach who is recognized as an exceptional coach, devoting time, energy and enthusiasm to inspire, advise, challenge and support their swimmers to attain their personal goals.

“I feel honoured to have won this award,” said Chaubet. “I am just happy to help people enjoy being physically active and reaching whatever goals they have for themselves in the water.”

Chaubet began coaching at DSC about three years ago while he was still swimming himself at the University of Toronto. The head coach of U of T, Byron MacDonald, recommended him for the job.

Over the past three years, Chaubet has shown he’s a remarkable coach by having interesting and varied practices, really getting to know his swimmers and their goals, and encouraging and supporting his swimmers development both in and out of the pool.

“It’s always a balance of helping them achieve their goal optimally while ensuring they are enjoying the process,” said Chaubet.

Charlie Lane, who is teammates with Rasmussen at EOMAC, claimed the Long Term Contribution Award.

The Long Term Contribution Award is awarded annually to a swimmer, coach, volunteer and/or administrator in recognition of outstanding long-term contribution to masters swimming in Canada.

Lane joined masters swimming in 1983 and over the years has dedicated his time to not only swimming but as a board member at the club and provincial level. He is an incredible team mate and is always encouraging others to enter swim meets and other events.

“It is still about the joy of swimming, but just as important for me is the human connection with teammates,” said Lane.  “I find time to spend with members in every lane from the rookies to the world champions and I count many of them as my close friends.”

Lane is a long standing award winner at EOMAC for his commitment and dedication, and even has an award named after him. The Charlie Lane award is presented annually in recognition of loyalty and devotion to the sport, attendance and effort at workouts and participation in competitions.

What is Lane’s advice for new masters swimmers?

“Don’t be shy, talk to your lane mates, especially the positive ones. Within a few months you will just be one of the gang, complaining about the kick sets over Sunday brunch with people from every lane and looking forward to the next meet,” said Lane. “That’s what Masters is all about.”