Jesse Van Muijlwijk didn’t take up competitive swimming until he turned 55. But the lack of competitive experience didn’t stop him from winning a pile of medals at the 55+ BC Games in Coquitlam in 2016.
“I was the rookie,” said the 58-year-old Courtenay resident who hails from Holland. “I said to the guys, ‘I couldn’t wait to get to 55.’ It was a good feeling to be the youngest of the group, again. We as a team, Zone 2, came home with a lot of medals. And the team spirit was great, too. We had a lot of fun.”
Van Muijlwijk added to his medal collection the following year in Vernon. He won the 400m freestyle and three breaststroke events in the men’s 55-59 division. He was also part of three relay teams that won gold.
His favourite event is the breaststroke, owing in part to an unforgettable teacher in his home country.
“We all got very good swimming lessons because Holland is a country full of water. Especially the breaststroke was hammered into me by a fantastic, bellowing swim teacher,” he said with a laugh. “I can still hear him: ‘Spread! Go out with those feet!’ After Coquitlam — I think I got seven medals or something — I wanted to contact him and thank him for all the shouting and bellowing, but I found out that he had died 30 years before.”
Breaststroke racing does not exceed 100 metres at the 55+ Games, but Van Muijlwijk has been able to compete over 200 metres at club meets.
“I came in second in a meet last year, and in January at the provincials, I got a bronze medal for it.”
He joined the Nanaimo Riptides Swim Club, thanks to the encouragement of Zone 2 teammate Ian Burvill — a provincial record-holder in the butterfly.
Another Zone 2 teammate, Brian Staton of Black Creek, has been “kind of a coach” to Van Muijlwijk.
“He explained a lot of things about technique, and how to get better.”
In the world of masters swimming, Van Muijlwijk is discovering that advanced age doesn’t tend to slow people down.
“The competition will be more difficult when I’m past 60 or 65. There’s more people then who can join, because they’re retired. Some people in their 70s are just as fast as me.”
Case in point at the 200m freestyle race at the Coquitlam Games, where Van Muijlwijk and the competitor in the next lane touched the wall at the exact swam time, three minutes sharp.
“Then it proved that he was 65 and I was 55. And he said to me, ‘Well done boy’.”
Kelowna is the host city of this year’s Games, which run Sept. 10-14. Van Muijlwijk plans to compete in breaststroke, freestyle and relays — seven events in total.
“There’s an enormous amount of volunteers every year who do a wonderful job (at the 55+ Games),” he said, recalling volunteers in Vernon who drove swimmers to and from their hotel and the pool.
Aside from swimming, Van Muijlwijk works as a cartoonist, creating comic strips for daily newspapers in Holland.
“Even during the Games, in my hotel, I make my daily comic strip and send it off. I have a portable tool kit, you could say, a laptop and a portable scanner and a portable iBox. My comic strip runs 26 years now. And I do cartoons, caricatures as well. I was at the Filberg Festival a number of times.”