Whoever says retirement is for slowing down has clearly never met Kelowna’s Conny Stamhuis.
At 90, Stamhuis is poised to become the oldest person to participate in Canada’s largest open water swim, the Interior Savings Across the Lake Swim, in July.
Despite this incredible milestone, Stamhuis insists on making her fundraising efforts the focus of her upcoming swim rather than herself. She will complete the 2.1 kilometres across Okanagan Lake to raise money for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and hopes to raise $10,000.
“I am not swimming for myself. I don’t need fame and all that sort of stuff. I am swimming for my favourite charity, because I felt that this was a good time to do it. It would be special for a 90-year-old to swim the lake, I know. But, that is only a means to an end,” she said.
MSF is an international humanitarian medical organization that aids those in conflict zones and countries affected by endemic diseases. It is currently helping get crucial medical care and supplies to Ukraine to help those impacted by war.
After coming to Canada from the Netherlands at age 20, Stamhuis became a nurse. Once she retired, she hoped to join MSF to help those in need worldwide.
“By the time I had to retire at 65 — at that time you had to — I was looking at a black hole until I found out that I could join Doctors Without Borders. I applied, and I was accepted. However, my husband, who hadn’t quite entered the 20th century yet, was upset. So, I didn’t go. I did a lot of other things and I started swimming,” she said.
Stamhuis, currently a member of the Okanagan Masters Swim Club (OMSC), first started swimming at age five, playing water polo as a child.
It was not until retirement, with a little nudge from her son Michael, that she started swimming once again. Since then, she has set national and provincial records, won multiple gold metals at national and international masters events, and was inducted into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
Launched in 1949, the Interior Savings Across the Lake Swim Kelowna is billed as less a race and more a challenge and a standard for young and old, newly minted swimmers and seasoned racers. In 2012 at the age of 80, Stamhuis swam it for the first time and has not looked back since.
Now, she is focusing on training for the big event on July 16, where she will enter the chilly waters again. This time, to help MSF.
“I think, if I can, this is my chance because I couldn’t go with them 25 years ago,” she said.
To prepare, she swims with OMSC three times a week and has already started doing practice swims across Okanagan Lake.
You can donate and help Stamhuis reach her goal by visiting her fundraising page.