Cynthia Styles of Surrey has known how to swim most of her life, and even in old age, she's like a youngster who doesn't want to get out of the pool.
Styles is set to swim at the 25th anniversary of the B.C. Seniors Games, being held at the Central Park pool in Burnaby from Thursday to Saturday (Aug. 23 to 25). The games divide the seniors by age, with eight divisions ranging from 55 to 94 in five-year increments.
"You can start being in the Seniors Games anytime after you're 55," said Styles. "I'm a bit older than that."
As a member of the Zone 3 Swimming Team, Styles is one of roughly 24 seniors from Surrey to Abbotsford representing the Fraser Valley in water sports. The local swimmers practise every Monday and Wednesday at Surrey Sports and Leisure Centre, on Fraser Highway in Fleetwood.
"Doing things like this really keeps you fit and energetic, way on into when you're supposed to be old and decrepit," she said with a laugh. "If I don't swim, I know I don't feel right."
Styles' father taught her to swim at the age of nine and she took part in her first race at 13.
"My dad was a good swimmer and I suppose he thought he'd put me in a race and see what happened," said Styles.
While she didn't always swim competitively in her adult years, she joined the Seniors Games in 2001 and has come back every year since.
She will compete this week in freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke events in the 25-and 50-metre lengths at the Seniors Games. During some recent timed swims, she clocked 38 seconds in the 25-metre freestyle and 41 seconds in the 25-metre backstroke.
"I've been watching the Olympics and, for the initial dive in freestyle, they all do what's called a dolphin kick," she said. "If you do the dolphin kick, you get can right past the flags - you're nearly halfway down the pool before you even have to start swimming."
Alida Brichon, Styles' teammate and coordinator of the Zone 3 Swimming Team, first competed in the B.C. Seniors Games 14 years ago out of general interest.
"It's still competitive swimming, but the main object is to have fun and do your physical fitness," she said. "All you need is a 25-metre pool and eight lanes."
Brichon noted that fellow swimmers are seen as both companions and competition.
She said, "You'd be swimming against one of the people that you've met for the last 10 years every year in your age group. You say, 'Hey, have a good swim,' but in the meantime, you want to beat them.
"It is competitive. They've got to have that spirit in there."
The Zone 3 team has some stiff competition from swimmers in 11 different regions throughout the province, including the Okanagan, East Kootenay and the Interior. The games' most notable athlete may be Jean Buchanan, a 92-year-old from the West Kootenay region who has been swimming in the games for 23 years.
But Zone 3 has their own pool sharks, including Aldert Dykstra, a 72-year-old master swimmer who, in November, came second in the 1,500-metre freestyle nationals. He also swam the 800-metre freestyle in 13 minutes and 48 seconds.
But the desire to win isn't what motivates Brichon and her teammates to participate in the games - swimming is simply fun for them.
"It's the social part we also do that keeps this group together," she said. "It isn't just the swimming."
The B.C. Seniors Games start Wednesday, Aug. 22 with the opening ceremonies, followed by three days of competition between Thursday and Saturday.
Zone 3 is always looking for others to join them at their weekly practises and, odds are, most will qualify.
Styles said, "So long as they can swim and they're willing to learn, that's what's required."
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