Swimmer’s profile: Stephanie Dancey

What made you choose swimming?

As I approached 50 years old, I wanted a sport where I could maintain a high level of fitness and achieve various goals. I had a bum knee (chondromalacia - a fancy word for thinning of the cartilage on my left knee) so I needed a sport that was easy on the joints and wouldn’t cause further injuries. I had worked as a lifeguard for seven years during college and university and swum once a week during my 20s, 30s and 40s and always found swimming enjoyable.

I had done some research as I’m a very goal-oriented person and discovered I could attend both provincials and nationals without qualifying times, which really appealed to me. I could also push myself to meet the qualifying times for the FINA World Championships one day, and if I never got fast enough, there was always the World Masters Games. So there were many options as a master swimmer to achieve big goals.

What’s your best swimming memory so far?

My best swimming memory was during a masters swim meet in April in Ottawa called OlymPINK Masters Sprint Challenge. It was so cool to see six former Olympians swimming beside a breast cancer survivor (each Olympian and swimmer had their own lane to swim a 25m crawl together).

Another neat memory was attending the Masters Provincial Championships last March at the Pan Am Pool in Markham. I was so scared (and intimidated) when I saw the Canadian Armed Forces team (the women are physically enormous) and questioned if I was ready to compete at that level after only two years of competitive swimming. It turns out I got my personal best time in the 100m!

You used to be a reporter; what do you do now?

I worked as a newspaper reporter for 10 years across Ontario at both community and daily papers before the media spokesperson for the local Catholic school board asked me to teach French. It is very hard in the Peterborough area to find anyone bilingual so I accepted and went to Teachers College at 34 years old with an 11-month-old baby. I have taught Core French, Grades 3-8, for the past 15 years. For many years, my school board hired me in the summers to write 30 stories on teacher retirees.

What are you trying to achieve with swimming?

Initially, I wanted to lose weight (I lost 10 pounds in my first year with the Trent Swim Club). My ultimate goal is the FINA World Championships.

What do you like most: pool or open water?

I actually like them both equally for very different reasons. In the pool, I’m competitive, always counting my strokes and watching the clock. In open water, I am driven by the love of swimming. I simply swim as far as I can go and enjoy the fish swimming by and the sun beaming down on my body. For this reason, I have no desire to compete in open water because I never want to lose that pure love of swimming that sometimes competition can take away.

You want to compete at Nationals or Worlds one day, do you have a specific year in mind?

Nationals May 2021
Worlds Summer 2025

In teaching, I can take a teacher funded leave every 4.5 years for five months from February to June. I can train more hours a day when I am on a leave as opposed to when I am working. I took my first leave to train for provincials last year and spent two to three hours a day at the gym.

How is your relationship with your teammates and your coaches?

We all have a good relationship. The coaches know I am always looking for feedback to improve and get faster. At the end of every 16-week session, swimmers meet at a local pub for a night out. Last June, I hosted an end of the season party at my house on Chemong Lake. I have competed in two meets with teammates, and every summer, while our club is on break, I swim in a nearby lake with two of my teammates.

Has swimming helped you improve other aspects of your life?

Yes for sure. The discipline of getting up at 5 a.m. five days a week to swim a mile before work has helped me in all aspects of my life. Also, being dedicated and having goals have helped me appreciate the value of hard work and enjoy the benefits of the payout. I also have tons of energy for a 50-year-old (my co-workers always tell me) so I find the morning swim calms me so I don’t feel boundless energy all day. I teach 140 students and many have told me I’m an inspiration to them. I always show them pictures of my swim competitions and talk to them about goal setting and achieving one’s dreams.

What do you like most about swimming?

My whole life, being around water has been associated with happy times. I got engaged in Key West by the Gulf of Mexico, I have lived in a beautiful area on Chemong Lake for nine years and I have jumped in the lake every February in a Polar Plunge (I’ve done this for 16 years and raised $11,000 for charity in that time). Swimming at a competitive level has enabled me to extend my joy around water (and love for the sport) one step further.

Have you trained in other sports before swimming?

My step-father’s health wasn’t good when I was growing up so I wasn’t allowed to play competitive sports due to the required parent commitment. When I went away to Wilfred Laurier University for my degree in Physical Education, I played varsity badminton and women’s AAA ice hockey. While I have always played sports, including ringette and softball as a child, those were the only ones at a rep level where I had to train regularly.

When you’re not swimming, what are your hobbies/passions?

I box with my teenage son and husband once a week, I kayak and enjoy my jet ski and our two performance boats and Harley Davidson motorcycles in the summers; and I snowmobile and play shinny hockey on the lake in the winters. I have owned Jeep Wranglers for the past 30 years and enjoy going on Jeep Jamborees. I also do weights once a week and follow a full-body program from a fitness trainer that builds the muscles used primarily in swimming.

Are there any other swimmers in your family?

No. I have a son, three step-daughters and five step-grandchildren and nobody is a swimmer. Not even my parents, brother or husband.

Anything to add?

When I first joined the Trent Swim Club, I had no idea how to read the board and felt so intimidated. I didn’t even know that 25 metres was one lap! It took a while to figure out the lingo and that times per set included rest times. That all seems so long ago now.

I have been to two weekend swim camps and before provincials, got private training from a seasoned swim instructor at our local YMCA. My best friend in Ottawa is a former competitive synchro swimmer so we are planning a girl’s trip next year - a swim vacation in Barbados with an average three hours of open water swim a day.

After I compete at Nationals, I want to get a tattoo near my ankle with a picture of me diving off the blocks (to remind myself how far I have come from my childhood “crying” days during my swimming lessons).

One final thought: The bottom line is I wasn’t born with any natural God-given talent for sports. I have worked very hard to get to where I am and when I look back at my life in 20 years, I won’t regret a thing but will feel very proud knowing I achieved my best and inspired so many people along the way.

Stephanie and Olympian Mike Brown at the OlymPINK Masters Sprint Challenge in April 2018

Do you or anyone you know have a swimming story to share? New swimmers, veterans, competitive or recreational swimmers, send your story to doughannum@mastersswimming.ca, and maybe you’ll see it featured on this blog in the next few weeks!

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