When she joined the White Rock Wave masters swim club last fall, all Betty Brussel wanted was to enjoy being part of a team.
She was less concerned with personal-best times, podium finishes or records of any sort.
It hasn’t taken long for that to change.
Now, the 95-year-old swimmer has found her competitive edge, and in recent weeks, has not only been standing atop podiums at various meets, but also setting all manner of records. Early this year, she set five new masters marks – both provincial and Canadian – in the 95-99 women’s age bracket, and she topped that at a Chilliwack meet on March 2, breaking three of her own national records while also breaking a world masters record in the 50-m breaststroke, beating the old standard by six seconds.
Now, the New Westminster native has her eyes on even more – which, at first, came as a surprise to her White Rock Wave coach.
“She was really enjoying being part of the team. I didn’t even know that Betty was looking at records,” laughed Carole Gair, the club’s longtime coach.
“But I know she’s been looking at world standings now, because she messaged me one day and told me, ‘There’s this woman… from the States, and I’ve swam against her and I can beat her – and she has a record. I want to get her record.
“It’s a long-course record, and we don’t swim long course until November, so I just said, ‘OK, but if you want it, you’re going to have to wait a little bit to go after it.”
In the meantime, Brussel – who was born in Holland and lived in Grand Forks before moving to the Lower Mainland – will have to be content with collecting more local podium finishes. The club’s next meet is provincial championships in Victoria, set for April 12-14.
And while she’s enjoying being part of a team after a number of years swimming on her own, Brussel does have an independent streak about her, Gair pointed out. The nonagenarian swims three times a week on her own at the Canada Games Pool in New Westminster – Gair drives there about once a week to watch her train – and she also has a very specific routine she goes through before training and meets.
Gair points out that Brussel’s self-sufficient attitude extends beyond the pool, too. Brussel’s daughter also lives in New West, and her fellow swimmers – from various clubs – will often pick her up and drive her to meets, she is just as likely to drive herself, no matter the distance.
“The Senior Games were in Grand Forks last year and she drives from New West to Grand Forks and back, by herself, so she’s still a very independent lady,” Gair said.
Brussel’s world record was just one of a handful of highlights for the Wave at the Chilliwack meet. In total, 21 swimmers combined to set 32 personal-best times, while a handful of swimmers competed in events for the first time – including Nancy Wasserman, 57, and James Lebrun, 31, each of whom swam the 100-m butterfly for the first time.
Debbie Dunn, 64, also swam in her first competitive meet – which Gair called “exciting to watch – while five swimmers won four events apiece: Brussel, Alida Brichon, Joanne Christopherson, Mohammed Abbas and Gavin Wiese.
Having Brussel on the team marks the second time in recent years that the Wave have had amongst its members a record-breaker at one of masters swimming’s oldest age divisions. For years, Elsa de Leeuw – now retired from the competitive swim scene – was swimming to gold medal after gold medal, and smashing record after record.
Oftentimes, her and Brussel would be matched up against one another.
The pair, Gair pointed out, grew up not far from each other in Holland.
With de Leeuw no longer swimming, Brussel has had to look further afield for a competitor that can match her skills in the water. Currently, there is but one swimmer, Gair said – Ontario resident Kalis Rasmussen, who swims out of an Etobicoke, Ont. club.
“She’s very fast, so who knows how long Betty’s (world) record will last,” Gair said, though she’s quick to add that Brussel is showing no signs of slowing down.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
“Everybody, naturally gets older , but with Betty, I was looking at her times from last year, and her breaststroke time from (this month), where she set the world record – it’s almost seven seconds faster than what she did last year.”
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