It had been 48 years since Patti Komar dove into a pool to compete.
The last time the Agassiz resident had swam competitively, she was a 17-year-old living in Westminster, Colo. whose greatest swimming achievement was a trophy for Most Improved.
Although she had kept on swimming throughout her adult life, often teaching classes to young swimmers or hopping in the pool before work, she had never gone back into a swim meet.
But this year, 65-year-old Komar decided it was time to step into competition once more. From Sept. 10 to 14, she travelled up to Kelowna with more than 100 other seniors to compete in the 55+ BC Games.
“When you get to be my age … you can choose to sit and say ‘Okay, I give up,’” Komar said, sitting in Hemlock Mountain Coffee with her six new medals in a bag beside her. “Or you can get involved. You can do something, and keep moving.
“I chose the latter.”
Competing in the 50-metre backstroke, the 50-metre butterfly, the 100-metre backstroke, the 25-metre backstroke, the 25-metre butterfly and the 100-metre individual medley against women ages 65 to 69, Komar was up against swimmers who she was told lived to compete.
“The closer I got to the day, I got nervous and wanted to back out,” Komar explained. “People started telling me that these people are really into it. This is what they do all the time. They compete and they live their life to compete, even at the senior level.
“And I thought, nope. Do it just for fun … if you have that in mind, then you have a different perspective,” she continued. “Plus, I prayed a lot.”
Obviously, something in the way she approached her races worked. Komar ended her time in Kelowna with not one, but three gold medals, as well as three silver: a medal for every race she competed in.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said, taking the medals out of the bag. “I’m going to have to get a shadow box and put them in. Because I’m just so proud.”
In the weeks leading up to the seniors’ games, Komar worked out in the Agassiz, Chilliwack and Harrison pools — practicing her strokes and keeping herself in shape.
She did her best to practice by herself, even asking the lifeguards at the Chilliwack pool to let her try the starting block so she would be ready in case they were used in the competition.
“When I was a kid, they were all kind of handmade, and I didn’t really like them because I did belly flops … so I’d ask them to move it out of the way,” she said. These new ones, she explained, are a little to hefty to be moved. So she had to learn to dive off them.
The lifeguard “took the cone off and I got up there. And I thought ‘Oh my gosh. I’m feeling a little off balance,’” she said. “‘It’s different. When you’re a kid, nothing really phases you.”
The starting blocks weren’t the only thing that had changed since her last competition.
A few other senior swimmers also stopped to practice in Chilliwack, and after recognizing them by the blue nail polish on their fingers — an identifying marker for the Fraser Valley competitors — she was taught a few more things that had been altered in the intervening years, like pulling down with one arm during a backstroke.
“A lot of the stuff I was doing, I thought was okay,” she said. “But they said, ‘No. If you do that, you’re going to get disqualified.’”
“So they taught me and I practiced and I practiced and I practiced,” she added. “So I had that down pat.”
Prepared, Komar travelled up to Kelowna to face her fears — and won first or second place in every race. Now, Komar has been invited to swim in the Chilliwack Masters Swim Club and plans to head on back to the seniors games next year.
“It took me through a whole adventure,” she said about the games. “It proved that you just don’t stop. Life doesn’t stop after 60 you know. You keep going.
“Although,” she added, laughing, “it does go faster.”