Octogenarian swimmer still breaking Canadian, Ontario records
At almost 85 years old, Chris Smith holds dozens of Canadian and Ontario swimming records and he’s showing no signs of stopping.
By Azzura Lalani
At an age when most retirees are enjoying their golden years splayed out on a beach sunning themselves, 84-year-old Christopher Smith is still making waves — at the pool, that is.
Earlier this month, at a swim meet in Buffalo, N.Y., Smith swam four events: the 200 yard fly, 400 yard IM, the 50 yard and 100 yard free.
All were Ontario records.
Smith holds dozens of Canadian and Ontarian swimming records and has broken around 70 Ontario records in his lifetime. It’s a remarkable achievement for anyone in their 80s, but Smith’s is particularly impressive because just over two years ago he survived a quintuple bypass surgery.
“I was the oldest person in the (hospital) ward. I was 83 and I seemed to be recovering faster than everyone else,” recalled Smith from his home in North York.
The spry octogenarian with a full head of white hair, a white beard and bright blue eyes moves constantly as he speaks, tapping his feet and gesturing with his hands.
“The fact that I was physically healthy, that’s why I recovered so fast,” said Smith, crediting his swift recovery to swimming.
Only a month after his surgery in November 2014 at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Smith was back in the water, rebuilding his stamina.
In Apr. 2015, he started competing — and winning — again.
Smith competes in all 18 swimming events through Masters Swimming Ontario and Canada. His favourite stroke is “probably freestyle” he says, because “you move the fastest.”
On Jan. 1, the almost 85-year-old swimmer was bumped into the 85 to 89-year-old age group, where he’s already started sinking records.
“When the swimmer ages up, there’s a whole new lease on life, we get excited on aging up because then we’re the youngest in the age category,” said Brigitte Zirger, the record keeper for Masters Swimming Ontario.
“(Smith) certainly is a fixture at most meets you’ll go to. He just goes all over the place and will swim and officiate as well.”
Smith, who’s been swimming for 80 years, got his start in the sport early. He was born in Bermuda and learned to swim on the island’s pink beaches in the salty Atlantic.
As a two-year-old, he would run straight into the water whenever his family took him to the beach, prompting his parents to put him in swimming lessons when he was only four, something that was unusual at that time.
Growing up, Smith suffered from asthma. A doctor recommended three things: that he leave the island, join a swim team and play the bagpipes, so Smith was shipped off to Canada where he attended St. Andrews College and captained the swim team.
“My asthma totally disappeared,” he said.
Smith stayed in Canada and continued swimming, attending the Royal Roads Military College for two years before being honourably discharged.
He went on to become an architect, graduating from the University of Toronto.
Over the course of his life, swimming would sometimes wind up on the backburner, but he always came back to it.
There was a period of time where he had to stop because of a severe problem with his eyes from years of swimming in chlorine and salt water, but the rise of goggles in the 60s fixed that, he said.
“I see swimming as a meditation,” said Smith. “I also really enjoy the social aspect. Most of my friends are swimming friends. I have swimming friends around the world.”
“We’re looking at a person that is active, he’s healthy, he trains regularly, he’s out there swimming, he’s participating. A lot of people his age don’t. A lot of people his age have trouble even walking down the street,” said Zirger. “You’re talking about a very healthy individual. He’s doing times that some younger people would envy.”
As for the future, Smith says if he’s able, he can “absolutely” see himself swimming till the day he dies and — hopefully — continuing to break records.