Canadian Masters swimmer Jaring Timmerman of Winnipeg sets WR's
In January Canadian Masters swimmer Jaring Timmerman of Winnipeg took what you might regard as the second biggest splash of his lifetime.
Although he's an expert swimmer today, and one of the world's oldest, Timmerman recalls when he almost drowned as a child living in the Netherlands.
Timmerman was four years old sailing on the Rhine River with his father on his family's boat.
The young boy heard a band playing on a passing boat. Unaware of the dangers of the water, he jumped in thinking he could swim to the other boat.
"I was on deck of our ship and I jumped overboard," recalled Timmerman. "I was bouncing in the water because I didn't know how to swim. I was just so happy to hear the band playing and I wanted to get closer to the music."
That was his first big splash in the water. A century later, he's still swimming against all odds thanks to the sailor on the other boat who saw the boy plunge into the river on that day. "He dove in and he pulled me out, otherwise I wouldn't be here today," he said.
The Timmerman family was lured from the Netherlands to Canada with the promise of farmland in Manitoba, but the ground was hard and rocky and the family relocated to Winnipeg. Their home was without running water so the Pritchard Baths and Swimming Pool became a place for the young boy to keep clean and to focus his energy.
Timmerman apparently fell in love with the water and swam for recreation and fitness. Even as an adult he would leave the family's summer cottage on Lake Winnipeg, disappearing around the point and returning to the pier about an hour later. "He was always a good swimmer and it seemed very easy for him" said his son Don who attends all of his meets.
Timmerman was 78, a youngster by his standards, when he started swimming competitively. His wife, Gladys, encouraged him to compete when she saw an ad for a masters swim meet in a Phoenix newspaper when they were wintering in the USA. After three weeks of cajoling, he finally agreed to take the plunge. "I thought I wouldn't stand a chance racing against former collegiate champions," he says, "To my surprise, I won a gold medal in the 200m freestyle!" According to his son, "He got the bug at that point, he liked winning."
Thirty five years later he's the owner of 23 Canadian masters national swimming records (seven in the 85-89 age group, four in 90-94, eight in 95-99 and four in 100-104). He has earned more than 160 medals, most given to his grandchildren. Timmerman has competed in international events held in Edmonton and Montreal, the Senior Olympics in Washington, DC and St. Louis and world masters meets in Denmark and Germany.
When he "aged up" into his new age group 100-104 years old, Timmerman set four world records in the 50m, backstroke, 50m freestyle, 100m backstroke and the 100m freestyle, each of the marks still stand today.
Doctors told Timmerman that he had torn ligaments in his shoulder. "That's what they call a swimmer's shoulder. I got that when I was about 100," he said. But he just changed his stroke and kept going.
Complaining to another doctor that his knees were bothering him the specialist replied "if you were a younger man I would likely replace them, but I doubt that I should do this at your age."
"I told him that I need to be able to swim and asked if he was aware of my world records?" On the next visit Timmerman showed him his four world record certificates. He agreed to replace both of my knees if I promised him I would keep swimming."
Timmerman kept his promise and today is an inspiration to many younger masters swimmers. His weekly fitness plan includes swimming twice a week and riding a stationary bike for about one hour every day. When he talks to seniors groups about his secrets he shares, "You must keep your muscles active and keep moving if you want to enjoy life."
"I thought, 'Well, I've got to get something that is working for me and is attractive. I made up this axiom GEDS, which stands for Genes, Exercise, Diet and maintaining a good Spirit. If you follow these principles I think you can live a healthy, good long life."
Jaring Timmerman (CAN) setting a new World Record in the 105-109 age group - credit: Trevor Hagan
His second big splash was on January 24th in the Catherine Kerr Pentathlon held in the 1999 Pan American Games pool just a few weeks shy of his 105th birthday. Timmerman would be competing to be the world's fastest swimmer in the 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke events, in the 105-109 age group. It's a category basically created just for him because that age group has presently no world records.
"I anticipate breaking those records, setting them, I should say," says Timmerman, who refers to his family as his "cheerleading team." His grandson, Derek, visits from Vancouver to be on the side of the pool. And he had full confidence he would etch his name in the history books for the over-105 category. Although he's still a few weeks shy of his actual birthday, FINA will recognise records set in the year he turns 105.
"I think always having had a goal, and working to achieve something, probably has given him longevity," said his son Don. "This was a lot of stress for him. He was afraid that he would let everyone down."
“When I'm in a competition, I take it seriously,” said the senior Timmerman. “If you don't give it all you've got, forget about it.”
On January 24th Timmerman set a personal record along with the two world records. "3:09:55. That's the fastest he's ever done it," his son said after the backstroke race. Timmerman would go on to beat that time in the freestyle heat, clocking in at 2:52:48.
That night there was a kids swim meet at the Pan Am Pool and he was besieged by requests for his autograph and photos by the young swimmers. According to the Winnipeg Free Press Timmerman has become somewhat of a celebrity. He was awarded the Order of the Buffalo Hunt by Premier Greg Selinger in 2010, the highest honour awarded by the province to individuals who demonstrate outstanding skills in the areas of leadership, service, and community commitment. He has been the subject of a documentary and has done countless interviews.
Born in 1909 Jaring Timmerman remembers watching returning World War I soldiers as a boy. He was a navigator for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He has outlived empires, countries, the depression, the personal horror of the Second World War and the rise and fall of communism.
"I'll turn 105 on February 11th. It's quite an event when you turn 105, that's a long time. I'm going to tell my doctor that those knee replacements were very successful. I now have two new world records to prove it.
"We can absolutely confirm that he is the oldest competitive swimmer in Manitoba and in Canada," says Darin Muma, executive director of Swim Manitoba. "I hope I can still swim at 105. I think it's wonderful that somebody can still swim and love the sport."
Timmerman told the reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press that "It'll be the last race, I think it will be the end of my swimming. I'm getting a little old. but I have enjoyed it so very much."