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Winnipeg centenarian still doing laps, still breaking world records

Posted: 01/25/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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He's just a few weeks shy of his 105th birthday but Jaring Timmerman almost didn't survive his childhood.

Although he's an expert swimmer -- and one of the world's oldest -- Timmerman says he almost drowned when he was a child.

He was just four years old, on his father's boat on the Rhine River in the Netherlands, when he heard a band playing on a passing boat.

Not knowing the dangers of the river, he jumped in to get closer to the music.

"I was on deck of our ship and I jumped right overboard," recalled Timmerman. "I was bouncing. I was so happy to hear them playing."

Fortunately, a sailor on the other boat saw him plunge into the river.

"He dove in and he pulled me out, otherwise I wouldn't be here today," he said.

That was his first big splash in the water. A century later, he's still swimming against all odds.

Timmerman, who turns 105 on Feb. 11, is the oldest registered master swimmer in Canada. He has already set many national and world records for swimming, but he isn't done yet.

This past week, he was back at the Pan Am Pool competing to be the world's fastest swimmer in the 50-metre freestyle and 50-metre backstroke events -- in the 105-109 age group.

It's a category basically created just for him.

"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 wish I can still swim at 105. I think it's wonderful that somebody can still swim and love the sport."

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 in a Phoenix newspaper -- while they were wintering down south -- inviting senior swimmers to a local event.

After three weeks of cajoling, he finally agreed to take the plunge.

"I thought I wouldn't stand a chance... those were all ex-college champions," he says, "Lo and behold, if I didn't get the gold in the 200 metres!"

Since then, he has won about 160 medals, which he gives to his grandchildren. He has competed in international events across Canada, the U.S., Denmark and Germany.

"He got the bug at that point... he liked winning," says Don, his son.

Timmerman holds four world records in the 100-104 age group, and has 23 national records (seven in the 85-89 age group, four in 90-94, eight in 95-99 and four in 100-104).

And he had full confidence he'd etch his name in the history books for the over-105 category. Although he's still a few weeks shy of his actual birthday, swimming's official organization will recognize records set in the year in turns 105.

"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 all the way from Vancouver to be on the side of the pool to coach him through.

Timmerman, a navigator for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, has a weekly fitness plan that 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 to a long, healthy life, he stresses his easy 'GEDS' principle.

"I thought, 'Well, I've got to get something that is attractive. So, I came up with the acronym for genes, exercise, diet and spirit."

Timmerman has become somewhat of a celebrity in the province. 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.

But his lips are sealed when it comes to what the ladies at the pool think of his accomplishments.

"The women are in a different category," he says, with a chuckle.

 

estefania.wujkiw@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2014 D15

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