A trip to the Canada 55+ Games in Brockville, Ont. last week proved to be fruitful for Lynne Martin. The Winterbourne resident won a bronze medal in the 100- metre freestyle swim, and finished fourth in the 50-metre freestyle sprint.
“It totally blew me away that I did a bronze,” she admits. “I had no intention of it. I was only going for my personal best. I just focused on ‘you get there and back four times, and see how you make out.’”
Martin, 65, was competing in her sixth Canada 55+ Games, which began back in 1996. The games are a nation-wide program designed to promote wellness among Canadians 55 years of age and older. They bring together amateur competitors from every province and territory in activities ranging from swimming and track-and-field to snooker and darts. This year the games featured over 1,500 competitors, including a 97-year-old javelin thrower.
Competitors have to qualify for the Canada 55+ Games by winning at regional or provincial games. Martin qualified with a time of 2:34 in the 100m freestyle in the regional games in Kitchener this year – then promptly shaved 23 seconds off her time to finish at 2:11 at the Canada Games to win bronze.
“I must have had a fire lit under my butt or something,” she said, joking about her improvement.
Martin has spent her entire life in the pool – “since I was old enough to jump in puddles” – and spent several years teaching swimming instructions at the Elmira pool.
She first decided to compete in the games for her 60th birthday, and didn’t know what to expect. “I had no idea what the competition was like. I had no idea what I was up against, and my first time out I won four golds.”
While the games have grown in popularity over the past 15 years – there were only about 350 participants at the first event – Martin said many seniors are still reluctant to participate.
“Most people have the idea they can’t do it. I know one fellow that’s been swimming two miles a day at the Elmira pool, and he says ‘oh, I’m not good enough,’ and I say ‘you’ll blow them away.’”
Games chairman David Dargie said the government has not done enough to promote the games.
“The federal government does not have a sport and recreation for life policy, and they really need to do that,” he explained. “The provinces are all over the map when it comes to funding. It ranges from zero dollars to $500,000.”
The games are not about winning and losing for Dargie; they represent the wonder of sport.
“We’ve got hockey players that are gliding up and down the ice and play so well, and [when] they take off their helmets, you realize they are 55-plus. It’s really inspiring.”
For Martin, it’s more about the fun and meeting new people than the final medal count.
“I don’t flaunt it. I’m one of these people who are crazy about the water. People look at me like ‘you swim in the winter time too?’ But that’s just me – it’s fun!”