This year marks 50 years since Elaine Tanner became the first Canadian woman to win a swimming medal in the Summer Olympic Games.
Tanner, now a semi-permanent resident of Qualicum Beach, won three medals — silver in the 100- and 200-metre backstroke and bronze in the 4×100 freestyle relay — in Mexico City in 1968 at age 17.
Her additional career highlights include setting five career world records, winning four gold medals and three silvers at the 1966 Commonwealth Games, winning two golds and three silvers at the 1967 Pan American Games, and earning the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete in 1966. She was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1969 and inducted in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.
Today Tanner, who resides with her husband John in the oceanside community, has taken the many life lessons she’s learned since her Olympic win and written them into a children’s book—Monkey Guy and the Cosmic Fairy.
“I’ve learned so much through my journey,” Tanner said. “ Not only can children relate to [the book] but I also wrote it for the grandparents and the parents… it has great life lessons in it.”
Tanner said many of her life lessons stemmed from challenges and struggles she endured after winning silver at the Olympics.
Being a trailblazer in women’s swimming in Canada, Tanner said there was a heavy sense of expectation from her country for her to take home gold.
“Canada hadn’t really won much at all at the Olympics for medals, especially for swimming,” she said. “The entire Canadian Olympic team, nobody was really expected to win gold but me.”
Tanner said all of a sudden her passion for swimming became a task and “wasn’t really fun anymore.”
“It was more than me and my family, it was me and my country and I was just 17,” she said.
When she took silver instead of gold in her competitions, Tanner said the first thing people were asking after her race was ‘why did you lose?’ and ‘what happened?’
Tanner felt a colossal sense of disappointment and absence of identity after returning home from Mexico City.
“I had all the symptoms when I got home of post trauma, it changed me. I viewed myself as a winner and then all of a sudden the switch went from day to night and I saw myself as a loser.” Tanner said. “I was damaged and I had nobody to talk to.”
Tanner said she spent the next 20 to 30 years struggling with self-doubt.
She said meeting her husband, John, in 1988 helped her to get on the path of acceptance and forgiveness and to ultimately learn to love unconditionally—messages she’s embedded into her new book.
“The greatest power in the universe is love… and that’s what the whole book is about, loving unconditionally.”
Tanner no longer swims, due to an injured elbow, but enjoys all things outdoors and working to spread awareness of homelessness, mental health issues, animal rights and environmental concerns with her husband.