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Nanoose Bay 86-year-old takes home 6 swimming medals in 55+ Games

Harry Keen has been competing in the annual event since 1991 and swimming for even long
Harry Keen, 86, poses with one of six swimming medals he won at the 55+ Games in Greater Victoria. (Photo credit: 55+ Games)

A Nanoose Bay 86-year-old continued his nearly 20-year streak of 55+ Games swim wins last week, taking home a medal in each of the events he competed in.

Harry Keen has participated in the annual event nearly every year since 1991 and, despite two years off during the pandemic, clearly hasn’t lost his talent. Of the six backstroke and freestyle events he took part in, Keen snagged five golds and one silver in his 85 to 89 age category.

“It was a great experience and I’m glad I took part this year. I saw some old friends that I haven’t seen for a while and got back in the water and enjoyed myself,” he said.

The 86-year-old has been swimming since he was 14, competing for his high school team, taking part in a summer program at Crescent Beach and becoming a lifeguard, before eventually settling down and starting a family. It’s a love he’s passed on to his children.

“Swimming has been all around me since I was young, and the more I participated the more I wanted to share my passion. Swimming is something that our family can enjoy so our kids, grandkids, and even great-grandkids do it,” Keen said.

When Keen became a school teacher, he started helping in extracurricular programs and settled on athletics. He decided to become a sponsor instead of a coach though, because competitive swimmers usually keep the same coaches from their summer competitions throughout the year. A coach and/or sponsor is required for inter-school competition.

As for the 55+ Games, Keen has participated close to 20 times and doesn’t plan on stopping as long as he’s able to.

“It’s fun and competitive to a point, but the main aspect is the camaraderie with the other swimmers you’re involved with. There is competition but everyone is cheering on their neighbours and it’s fun, a lot of fun.”

As he gets older, Keen said the pool serves a therapeutic purpose as well.

“Being able to get into the water is really good for my knee, and for flexibility. And it’s also for enjoyment as well,” Keen said. “And it helps keep me in shape and keep some of the pounds off,” he added jokingly.

He plans on continuing to attend the Games for as long as possible.

This year’s were hosted in Greater Victoria from Sept. 13-17. Next year, they’re headed to Abbotsford.

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