Call them The Golden Girls.
Oceanside may have only sent four female swimmers to the recent BC Seniors Games in West Kootenay, but boy did they come up big. Big, as in 15 gold medals collectively, to go along with three silver and five bronze.
The Golden Girls — Mary Sluyter from the Horne Lake area, Joan Nielson from French Creek, Lynne Donaldson from Parksville, and Heidi Bromley from Nanoose Bay — were part of a strong Oceanside contingency representing Zone 2 (Vancouver Island North) at the 2011 Seniors Games played out Aug. 16-20.
Sluyter was terrific in the pool as she garnered five gold medals in the Women’s 70-74 division to go along with two silver and a bronze. In this, her fifth senior games, Sluyter touched the wall first in her 100M Free, 400M Free, 800M Free, 100M Medley Relay, 100M Free Relay; came in 2nd in the 200M Free and 25M Breast, and 3rd in the 200 meter Mixed Free Relay. Mary it should be noted has medaled in numerous swim events at the National Masters.
Donaldson, who was making her Games debuts this year, mined gold in the W60-64 200M Mixed Free Relay, and bronze medals in the 25M Butterfly and 100M Free Relay.
“It was a lot of driving,” she said, explaining they trained in Nanaimo and Courtenay with the Zone 2 coach, and swam together at Ravensong Aquatic Center three times a week over and above that.
“Training really gets going in March through April and comes more intense as you closer to the games,” she explained.
The Seniors Games swimming events were held in Trail.
“It was great fun,” Donaldson said of the games and her first time stepping up on the podium, adding, “it was also nerve wracking. It was very tense, as you’re waiting (on the blocks for the start). You don’t want to disqualify or embarrass yourself …it’s all about swimming your best time, and the medals are just icing on the cake.”
As reported in Tuesday’s News, Bromley, who cleaned up in her first Seniors Games last year, had another outstanding showing as she grabbed eight gold medals in the W55-59 division (800M Free, 400 Free, 200 Free and 50 Free, as well as the 100 and 200 IM, 100M Medley Relay, and 100M Free Relay) and a silver medal in the 200M Mixed Free Relay.
Bromley and Sluyter swim with the Ravensong Masters, while Nielson and Donaldson are more casual in their training.
No stranger to the sport of speed swimming, Nielson grabbed gold in the W80-84 25M Freestyle, and added book-end bronze medals in the 100M Free Relay and 200M Mixed Free Relay.
Nielson was a Level three swim coach back in the day and coached future Olympians Curtis Myden and Mark Tewksbury.
“I coached for about 35 years in Alberta,” the good natured grandma explained, adding her and her late husband Larry coached together at the Calgary Cascades swim club for four years, which is where she worked with a young Tewksbury.
“I coached him to his first Canadian record in the 50 Free as a 10 year old,” she chuckled, pointing out she still has, and still cherishes, the poster of Tewksbury given to them by the iconic Canadian swimmer himself after he won gold and set a new world record in the 100 Back at the ‘88 Olympics, on which he wrote ‘thanks to Larry and Joan for showing me what it takes to get to the top.’
“It’s pretty exciting to be part of these swimmers lives and their accomplishments,” said Nielson.
Her coaching career started in her backyard pool while living in New Orleans back in the mid-’60s.
Fast forward to Trail, and Nielson, who has been on deck as an official at the Canada Summer Games, said she was “delighted with the gold medal,” adding. “the competition was fairly tough in my age group much to my surprise. There’s some fast old ladies in this province.”
While her list of coaching accomplishments runs long where speed swimming is concerned, she didn’t start swimming in the Seniors Games until she was in her 70s she said, “because I thought maybe if I waited long enough I’d be competitive.”
In the meantime, the mother, grandmother, and great grandmother on the go says her and the other Golden Girls “are hoping this will inspire other people to get involved in the Seniors Games because it’s a great opportunity to be physically active and stay young … young at heart anyway.”
Zone 2 (Vancouver Island North) finished fourth out of 13 zones in the medal standings with 241 medals (105 gold, 78 silver and 58 bronze).
The 2012 BC Seniors Games will be held in Burnaby.