By Martin Cleary
Dr. Lynn Marshall has broken many world records as a masters-class swimmer, so many in fact over the past five decades that she has lost count.
The Carleton University permanent software engineering instructor knows she currently owns 10 age-group global marks, but as to how many she has set and held, she puts her best guess at between 50 and 100.
Marshall’s latest world record is definitely one for the books. It may be her most memorable or at least a leading candidate.
The road she had to navigate in the almost two years leading up to her latest swimming feat in Montreal had to make you wonder how she had any energy to challenge the record book.
Marshall, 61, broke the women’s 60-64 age class, short-course world record in the 800-metre freestyle on Nov. 12, 2021, with a time of nine minutes, 59.85 seconds. FINA, the international governing body for competitive water sports, confirmed her exceptional time and mailed her a certificate via Swimming Canada. She recently received that commendation.
In early 2020 and about two months before the arrival of the coronavirus in North America, she was flying home from the United States and sat two seats away from a very sick man. Marshall developed pneumonia, which lasted through January and February. She missed two months of training, which also didn’t sit well with the passionate swimmer.
When COVID-19 became a pandemic and totally disrupted everyone’s normal life, training as a swimmer became the ultimate challenge. For the past two summers, she spent a lot more time at Mooney’s Bay and Meech Lake for open-water sessions. If she wanted to go indoors, she relied on a pool in Gatineau.
In December, 2020, Marshall’s father Eric died at age 90 from complications after surgery. Seven months later, Marshall rolled her left ankle and broke her fibula on her way to the airport to visit her mother Dorothy in Duncan, B.C. It was a much-needed visit as her mother had experienced not only the death of her husband, but also the passing of her two dogs.
Marshall struggled through the rest of her summer, swimming with a boot on her leg, but she couldn’t push off the wall. But, she admitted, that element hasn’t been one of her strengths as a swimmer anyway.
Never knowing what to expect when it came to pool openings and closings, the same was true when looking for a competitive swim meet. In late October, 2021, she learned there would be a swim meet at the Claude Robillard pool in Montreal. She had no idea how she would do in a meet with inconsistent training and no spectators. But she was comforted knowing health and safety protocols would be followed at the meet.
“I felt partially prepared,” said a disheartened Marshall. “I had no idea what to expect. As a long-distance swimmer, it’s tough to try to do a lot of other things (for athletic training), like walking and rowing. The best way to get good at swimming is to swim.
“My training had been off and on. I hadn’t raced in so long. I set little expectations and things were worse than expected.”
Marshall prefers one-day swim meets, where she can go all out and crash the next day, instead of the multi-day championships, where too many races are too much. At her first meet in almost two years, she swam the 200-metre freestyle, the 200-metre backstroke and the 200-metre individual medley, but her times were slower than she expected.
The 800-metre freestyle was her final race of the meet and her previous three races didn’t give her a lot of confidence for a fast time. But when she dove into the 25-metre pool to attack her 32 laps, her pacing went well and she even swam the second half of the race quicker than the first half.
Her time of 9:59.85 broke the world women’s 60-64 age-group record by five seconds, but there wasn’t a real sense of celebratory joy. Marshall’s best time from a few years ago was 30 seconds faster.
“I was happy that I was under the record by five seconds,” added Marshall, who is an assistant coach with the Carleton University Ravens swim team. “But I didn’t expect to do that time. I didn’t expect to be 30 seconds slower. My pacing was very good. I did the first half in 5:01.59 and had a slight negative split coming home.
“For all my events, the pacing was good, but my times were slower than expected. My fitness was not what it should have been.”
If she could put her finger on one thing to explain that, it would be the pandemic and how it has been an unpredictable and dislodging force.
“It has been brutal,” a laughing Marshall replied, when asked how the pandemic has affected her entry into the 60-64 age division, a time when competitive swimmers want to use that age advantage to go fast and chase records.
“With all the shutdowns, my training was on and off again. I did more open-water swimming than ever before, especially my first summer (2020).”
Marshall will return to the competitive pool over the next two weekends in Dollard des Ormeaux, Que., and Etobicoke, Ont., aiming to see how she’s progressing and if it’s time for faster times.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.