By Rita Mingo
CALGARY – It’s like getting together with old friends, those who are in different stages of their life and may have different objectives. But the one common factor? The love of the pool.
As the 2023 Speedo Canadian Masters swimming championship begins at the MNP Community and Sport Centre, 622 competitors, ranging in age from 18 to 99, are eager to show they still have what it takes to not only take part but win at the national level.
For some, it’s a relatively new thing. Others, like Lauren Westmacott, have taken part for years.
“I really enjoy being around other swimmers, watching other people achieve their goals,” says Westmacott, a 43-year-old out of the Victoria Masters Swim Club and who has been coming to the tournament since 2007.
“I have my own goals to go for. I just enjoy hanging out at the pool.
I’ve been doing it since I was six. I don’t really know anything else.
Everyone here is so friendly and positive and everyone is trying to achieve something, whether it’s really small or they have a really big goal. I like doing the training and having something to work towards.”
That training involves being at the pool three or four times a week.
“I feel like it’s a community and I’ve met so many people from around Canada and different countries over the past several years as a masters swimmer,” she adds. “Nationals is where everyone comes back together and I get to see people that I haven’t seen for a while. It’s nice to watch them swim and reconnect.”
Leanne Whiting, on the other hand, is competing at just her second nationals.
“I’m excited to be here,” smiles the 43-year-old from Halifax. “And for me it’s a lead up to competition, which is fun. It gives me something to work towards. Swimmers coming together, all ages, all levels and swim the best we can.”
Someone who has swam her entire life, Whiting tries to get to the pool four days a week, working on her freestyle and breaststroke in particular. But with three kids, aged 10, 14 and two, their sports take priority.
“I got back into swimming for exercise,” she explains. “I have a two-year-old here that’s watching so for me, being a role model is one of the most important things. For her to see that I’m doing this and she can grow up to do this as well. Women in sport!”
Calgary born and raised Oliver Leung has done one other Masters race, when he was living in Nelson, B.C. But he, too, is no newbie to the sport. He did his undergrad in Australia and swam for the University of Western Australia. He also swam at Stanford when he was in Silicon Valley.
“For me, I just wanted to see how far I could push myself,” says the 42-year-old, who swims out of the Calgary YMCA. “Am I getting faster, am I getting slower, and by how much. I wanted to set a benchmark for myself.”
He began putting a concerted effort into training four months ago, after visiting his sister in New York.
“I was eating pizza every day for a month because my sister was there and I had free accommodations,” Leung, who is in product marketing, laughs. “So I ate pizza every day and I came back in February. I had some teammates that I trained with and they were like Masters is coming up in Calgary, why don’t we just sign up? It was almost spur of the moment.”
“But I wanted to be mentally and physically ready for this. I didn’t want to just show up like I did when I was in B.C. A little more serious. I just wanted to see how fit I could be.”
For him, too, it’s a community thing.
“I’ve run into friends here that I haven’t seen in decades. And it’s always great to see how far we’ve come, for better or worse. It’s great to see these milestones among athletes.”
The Regina Masters Swim Club has a record 41 competitors at this Masters tournament and the back of their sweatshirt says it all: You don’t stop swimming when you get old. You get old when you stop swimming.
One of those is Rocky Mehler, who is making his return to the meet after a number of years away.
“For me, seeing if I can make the top 3, that’s always my goal,” says the 68-year-old. “It’s been a long time, I’ve had a bit of an injury, so this is to see how I can do.”
His specialty? “As everybody around me knows … breaststroke!” the self-employed painter chuckles. And is he ever happy to have those other 40 teammates firmly behind him.
“That’s definitely a big part of it,” he agrees. “When you come by yourself, it’s not as much fun. When you come with a team, it makes it fun and interesting.”
Competition began on Friday and continues until Sunday.