One of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s most accomplished athletes of the last two decades has been enshrined in Masters Swimming Canada’s Hall of Excellence.
South Surrey’s Elsa De Leeuw, 92, was chosen earlier this month as the 2017 female recipient of the award which, according to the official criteria, honours those who have “demonstrated consistent and outstanding results at the highest levels of competition in Masters Swimming.”
More specifically, in order to be nominated for the hall, swimmers must have excelled in a minimum of three age groups, “have solid performances at the national and international levels” and demonstrate good sportsmanship.
For De Leeuw, who has been a member of the White Rock Wave masters swim club since 2000, the honour is well-earned, according to Wave head coach Carole Gair. After all, the senior swimmer has collected dozens of gold medals through the years, and has at times owned more than 20 Canadian masters records.
“Her records – her Canadian records – started in about 2003 or 2004, so not too long after she started swimming with us,” Gair told Peace Arch News. “She still has about nine of them.”
As well, Gair points out that the media-shy De Leeuw – who, through Gair, has always shunned the limelight over the past decade-plus – is still among the top all-time masters swimmers, according to FINA, the world governing body for the competitive swimmer at all levels.
FINA, Gair explained, tracks all-time records in each age division – “Basically, they keep track of the world’s fastest 10 swimmers in each group,” she said – and as of 2015, De Leeuw still was listed on six of those top-10 lists.
“As far as I know, there’s only one other B.C. swimmer who is in this hall of excellence,” Gair noted.
De Leeuw, who didn’t start swimming competitively until she was in her late-60s, hasn’t swam competitively since 2014, Gair noted, but she still attends weekly Wave practice sesssions, and often comes to meets to cheer on her teammates, many of whom are decades her junior.
“Everybody on the team is so proud of her. She’s like everyone’s grandma,” Gair said.
“Our club has such a range of ages, and everyone loves her. She’s just such a sweet lady.”
In an effort to illustrate the nonagenarian’s continued commitment to the sport, even as she isn’t competing, Gair points to the fact that, even though De Leeuw has been hampered for the last several months by a pinched nerve in her shoulder, she continues to come out once a week, on Sundays, and often only swims for 20 or 30 minutes.
“I’d called her son… to tell him about the (hall of excellence award) and he told me that Elsa’s chiropractor did not want her in the water right now. Well, about five minutes after that, I got a call from Elsa saying, ‘I’m coming swimming on Sunday,’” Gair laughed.
“She’s very determined.”
Recently, while swimming at a Wave practice, Gair said one of the club’s newer members – a man in his 40s who is training for a triathlon – marvelled at De Leeuw’s prowess in the water.
“The first time they swam together, he said he can see why she deserves this award. She was passing him,” she said. “Even with a bum wing, she’s out there still at 92, passing 40-year-olds.”