By Rita Mingo
When he thinks back 39 years ago to his participation in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Marco Veilleux looks off into the distance and shakes his head.
“Actually, ‘84 for me was not the best,” the now 60-year-old swimmer recalled. “I felt I was better in 1980 (the Olympic boycott). If I had gone in ’80, I felt I would have been way better.
“Second thing, the main reason, as I see it now, I was 21 years old and I felt it was my last race. I remember that when I went on the block, I still remember like it was today, I was thinking this is my last race. I didn’t swim well. I was thinking too much about it being my last race and what’s going on after that. So all my energy was toward the future and not toward the present.
“I enjoyed the experience, I enjoyed everything except my race. After that, you can stay there or you can move on and I moved on from there.”
After decades of moulding a career at a large Montreal law firm, Veilleux has returned to the competitive pool. He was one of hundreds who took part in the 2023 Canadian Masters swimming championships in Calgary in late May, a member of the Club Aquatique de Montreal (CAMO).
“I started back a year ago,” he explained. “I started more seriously actually because I just turned 60 a year ago and I felt I needed to start getting back into shape. I was doing a lot of other sports, sailing and things like that, and I felt that I needed to get back in the water, too. With some other swimmers, it’s great.”
Veilleux, in his prime, was a breaststroke specialist and at this championship, he revisited his go-to stroke, setting a Canadian record in the 60-64 age group in the 100m, as well as the 100 IM. He was also a member of the CAMO squad that set national marks in both the mixed 200 freestyle and 200 medley relays.
“I’m really proud of the team and the way I swam,” said Veilleux. “To tell you the truth, it’s a community, right? I’m looking at other swimmers around the world in breaststroke and the world, it’s really swimming fast. It’s almost like when you were 30 or 40 and you felt the people at 60 were old. Now I’m 60, I feel I’m almost like 40. You get smarter around 60, for me. I started thinking, oh, I shouldn’t eat McDonald’s, or that stuff. I started thinking about what I eat and what I drink. The times are getting there.”
What was a quest to get back into physical shape has really morphed into trying to improve his breaststroke.
“Totally,” he noted. “I have two friends, they send me videos all the time and I started looking and for the 50 breaststroke, it’s fine. But the 100 and the 200 … I’ve never been technical at all. Bad habits are really hard; this year I’ve been trying to change, I’m not gliding enough. All these guys that I saw, the top in the world, you can learn from these people. The breaststroke has changed so much so I like the change. It’s nice to evolve. Take the best of everything you can. You can’t swim like a 20-year-old but at least if you can take some aspects of this and that, that’s what I’ve been doing this year.
“The only problem is, I’m really short. I’m 5-foot-6 and these guys they send me videos of, the top breaststrokers, are 6-5, 6-6 and the stroke is totally different. So I do what I have to do for me and I’m glad with the way I feel now. If I get a record, that’s perfect. That’s icing on the cake. But really, it’s about getting back into shape and seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen for years.”
Veilleux may not have been competing for many years but he was still heavily involved in the sport. He became president of the Quebec swimming body (FNQ) and was vice president of Swimming Canada. He was also president of the Aquatic Federation of Canada (which oversees four sports) for two years.
But eventually, the pull of the competition became too great and here he is, once again, vying for wins and records. He scratched in the 200m breaststroke because he felt he couldn’t do it easily, what with the altitude.
“Some guys said just swim it and relax,” he said. “I cannot swim and relax. If I swim it, I want to do my best. PBs are really what we’re looking for. That’s my goal … try to improve with the techniques.
“I fell in love with the lady who’s 98 years old (Betty Brussel). That is incredible. I wish I could be 98 years old and swim here, just because it’s great. That’s what it’s all about.”