It takes a certain kind of dedication to jump into a swimming pool and swim laps daily.
It takes even more determination when that pool is outdoors, exposed to elements — and it’s early morning.
But for Elly Genest, 85, it’s nothing at all.
“I swim because I love it,” she says, smiling ear to ear. Genest is a regular at the Ferny Coombe Pool in Agassiz, right from May to September.
It doesn’t matter the weather. It doesn’t matter what else she has to do that.
She swims. And when Ferny Coombe closes for the winter months, she makes the trek into Chilliwack about twice a week to swim there.
But Genest wasn’t always a swimmer. It was a series of small events that led her to the water, she explains.
When Genest was in her mid-40s, her late husband was stationed in Shilo, MB, and she also worked at the base.
“We had an hour at lunchtime, and all the people they usually had a drink or something,” Genest recalls. “I thought, ‘I don’t enjoy this. I’m going to go over and see if I can swim.'”
It just happened her lunch hour coincided with some free swim time. She jumped right in.
“I couldn’t swim a stroke,” she says, laughing. “I learned by myself. There were people swimming by me. I would hold on, swim, hold on, swim.”
She thought to ask for help.
“The lifeguard was a soldier and he laughed his blooming head off,” she says.
“Why don’t you teach me then?” she asked him.
“Never mind, you’re doing well enough. Keep going,” the lifeguard replied.
So she kept going. She swam every day, and by the time the Genests moved from Shilo to Agassiz, in 1979, she has swam a total of 75 miles.
She still has the certificate and a picture from when she received a medal for her hard work, and determination. When she started working at the base in Chilliwack, she was told she could finish her goal of 100 miles, and earn a gold medal through the same program.
“But every time I had my lunch, the soldiers were using the pool,” she said.
As time went on, Genest ended up raising her grandson, Curtis, here in Agassiz. When he turned three, she started to bring him along for her swims.
So how pleased was she, when that grandson decided to work at a pool? Absolutely delighted.
“He was a lifeguard for seven years,” she said — a position that she had already come to hold in high regard.
“I can truly say, all those years I swam I have never had one lifeguard that was unfriendly or not helpful,” she said. “They were always wonderful people.”
Since Genest gets her swim over with before most people are finishing their morning coffee, she has the day free to do whatever she likes. It’s a good thing, because Genest has a long list of interests.
She is a part of the Harrison Hikers, and hikes twice a week. She’s also a member of the Sunshine Ladies, a group of singers who travel to different care homes to sing for the elderly. In addition to being retired from the Armed Forces, she was also a Sunday school teacher, and volunteered as a Girl Guide leader.