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February 9, 2001

Catching up with Lynn Marshall

Ottawa's female version of the "Thorpedo" turns 40 this year and Lynn Marshall plans to celebrate in style: She hopes to break at least 40 world, national and provincial swimming records. She's well on her way, setting five provincial records at a swim meet held this January at the Ottawa University Pool. We caught up with Lynn recently and asked her what keeps her motivated after 30 years of competitive swimming. Read on!

Lynne Marshall @ Ontario Masters
Ontario Masters Championships, Etobicoke Olympium, April 1996, 400 IM

Runner's Web: You've had quite a career as a swimmer. How does it feel to be turning 40 and still swimming close to your PBs?

Lynn Marshall: As turning 40 moves me into a new age Masters swimming age group (40-44), I'm not as traumatized by that milestone as I would be otherwise. However, as for still swimming close to lifetime PBs, you exaggerate somewhat Lynne!

The trick I use is to keep track of various personal bests (lifetime, age 30+, age 35+, this year, etc.). That way, I keep motivated by setting some sort of time goals to reach for. The last time I did a lifetime PB was in 1999 by 0.06 seconds in 200 Breaststroke Long Course (50m pool) - an event I swim very rarely (and very poorly!).

Runner's Web: How many more years do you think you can keep racing at this level?

Lynn Marshall: In my opinion, the key to continued success is to set reasonable goals, based on your circumstances.

June Krauser, a top US Masters swimmer from Florida who turns 75 this year, has a neat approach. Every year, she tries to plan her competitions so that she swims each event once in a 25yd, 25m and 50m pool (that's a total of 53 events or 14km of racing!), and her goal is to have at least one event faster than she did it the previous year.

I believe that with adjustments in training and expectations as required due other priorities, I can continue to race at a pretty high level for many more years to come.

RW: How long have you been swimming competitively?

Lynn: This is my 30th season. I started swimming for the Manitoba Marlins in Winnipeg at age 10 in September, 1971.

RW: How have you managed to maintain that competitive drive and the discipline to train all these years?

Lynn The competitive drive comes naturally to me.

I'm a very logical and organized person (100% "T" and 100% "J" on the Myers-Briggs personality indicator for those who are familiar with that), so I enjoy the discipline - at least most of the time. Nonetheless, I think the key for me has been continuous changes and adjustments in my training, racing, and goals.

I was a "drop-dead" sprinter in my youth and held the Manitoba record for 50m free (25m and 50m pools) when I was 15. Since then I've gradually become a distance swimmer, but I train and race all the events and set goals for myself in all strokes.

RW: Any special racing plans/records to break in your masters debut year?

Lynn: I have the latest lists of Ontario, Canadian, and World records for the 40-44 age group and am putting together my racing schedule to maximize my chances of breaking as many as possible!

There are 105 records: 17 events in a 50m pool and 18 in a 25m, with 3 records for each event (Provincial = PR, National = NR, and World = WR). There are 44 records (25 PR, 17 NR, and 2 WR) that should be within my reach.

In fact, I already broke 5 of these (3 PR and 2 NR) at the Technosport meet on January 27th. There are also another 23 records (3 PR, 9 NR, and 11 WR) that may be possible with some luck on a good day!

RW: How did it start for you as a swimmer? Why did you choose swimming to excel at?

Lynn: I got my Red Cross Senior badge when I was 10. At that time the next swimming course available was the Bronze Medallion for which you had to be 14. During that "waiting period," my parents enrolled me in the Manitoba Marlins because I enjoyed swimming so much. It started at three times per week, grew to six times per week, and eventually to 10 times per week plus dry land.

If truth be told, I chose to concentrate on swimming by process of elimination. I just wasn't very good at most other sports! The only other sport I reached a high level in is judo. (Ed. Note: Lynn has a first dan (black belt) in judo).

RW: Did you ever have Olympic aspirations?

Lynn: No, I never had Olympic aspirations. I didn't really start enjoying swimming until University and didn't reach my peak until my early 30s, so the Olympics were never a goal for me. I did swim in the British Olympic trials in 1984, while completing my Ph.D. in Software Engineering in Manchester (I have dual citizenship), and qualified for the 1992 Canadian Olympic trials, but chose to watch instead.

RW: Obviously you watched the Sydney Olympics. Which swimmers most impressed you and why?

Lynn: I was as impressed as everyone else by Ian Thorpe(do). The finish of the men's 4x100 free relay was great, with Thorpe just out touching Gary Hall, Jr. I also admire Kieran Perkins who has been a world class distance swimmer for many years, winning the 1500 in Barcelona and Atlanta, and finishing second to fellow Australian Grant Hackett in Sydney.

However, my all time favourite is Russian Victor Salnikov. Salnikov won gold in the 1500 in Moscow in 1980, becoming the first man under 15:00. His best time in 1984 was faster than the winner in LA (but, of course, Russia did not compete in LA).

While everyone thought he was over the hill by Seoul in 1988, he competed and won. The magnitude of this achievement is best summarized by a quote from David Wallechinshy's "Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, 1996 edition":

"At 11:30 that night, after all the photos and interviews and ceremonies and congratulations were over, Vladimir Salnikov walked into the cafeteria at the athletes' village, hoping to grab a late snack. There were about 250 or 300 athletes and coaches in the room, representing a wide variety of nations and sports. As word spread that Salnikov has entered, the athletes and coaches spontaneously stopped eating, rose, and gave him a standing ovation."

RW: Back to you Lynn. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Lynn: The Waterloo school records that I set in 1983 for 200, 400 and 800m free stood for 17 years, to finally be broken this year by Lindsay Beavers. (Well, she's already broken the 400 and 800. It's only a matter of time before she gets the 200!) I currently hold one Masters World record, a 9:16.82 800 free (50m pool) for the 30-34 age group set at Masters Worlds in Indianapolis in 1992, which is my PB. Also, at Masters Worlds in Indianapolis in 1992, I was first overall in the 5km open water swim (1:02.51.8), beating the top two men by 8 seconds!

RW: What are your biggest disappointments?

Lynn: Many of my Masters World Records have never been recognized because of improper paperwork submissions by the Provincial and National recorders - that's disappointing to me. It hurts to look back at some of the 30-34 records which I should still hold and see someone else's name there with a slower time.

As much as I'm lucky to have recovered as well as I have from my accident (more on that below), my freestyle has never been the same, and I've never come close to those WRs that were never recognized since 1993.

RW: In your view, what qualities make up a good swimmer?

Lynn: As with any competitive sport, to be a good competitive swimmer you need a drive to win, the ability to keep to your training schedule, some natural talent, and a good body sense to understand and implement stroke corrections. Those who've seen me swim know that I don't have the prettiest stroke around, but I do continue to try to improve my technique with some success!

RW: What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?

Lynn: My competitive drive and dedication you mentioned above can be strengths, but can also be looked on as weaknesses. I'm not very good at resting and get very impatient with myself if I'm not meeting my objectives. I'm also very intense at training which intimidates some of my lane mates (especially in public swim!).

Lynn Marshall

RW: I think it was about 11 or 12 years ago that you gave triathlons a go and I recall you had a terrible bike accident. Can you tell us about it? Is that why you gave them up?

Lynn: I never considered myself a triathlete. When I was doing triathlons, my annual swimming distance was much higher than my running total, and very close to my cycling total! I was really a swimmer who did triathlons for fun.

After my accident, it wasn't fun anymore! In fact, I've only cycled 3 times in the past 7.5 years. My first triathlon was the OAC triathlon on July 6th, 1991, where I finished 2nd woman behind Marie-Josee Cossette. The last triathlon I completed was the Kawartha Lakes triathlon on July 10th, 1993, in which I won the women's division.

My last triathlon was the Kingston Tri on July 25th, 1993. That was the first year they had the short triathlon. I was first out of the water and following the lead police car when an old man in a car (and a hat!) pulled out from the side of the road between me and the police car and then saw the police car and stopped right in front of me. I crashed into the back of his car, breaking his brake lights with my head and the back wheel of my bike. Rudy Hollywood came to the hospital and was there to walk back to the Transition Zone with me after I was released, being told I'd just be sore for a few days. Meanwhile, a policeman had visited the hospital and held the accident report over the backboard, explaining that they'd decided not to charge me with rear-ending the car!

After doing some of the driving back to Ottawa, I received a phone call the next day from Kingston General telling me to go directly to the Ottawa Civic as I had a Jefferson fracture of the C-1 (neck). To make the rest of a very long story short (Civic on half-staff that week and taking 8 hours to admit me, going to the General in a taxi for an MRI scan: "Please drive carefully, my friend has a broken neck", etc.), I was lucky to end up with a Somi neck brace (light and aluminum) rather than a Halo neck brace (with screws into the skull!). However, spending 2.5 months in a neck brace is no fun! I kept somewhat fit with light weights, water running (which worried the lifeguards!), and surgical tubing. Since then, my chiropractor has done wonders for my neck mobility, but it'll never be 100%. That said, my accident was very similar to Christopher Reeve's (in 1995), so I'm really very lucky.

RW: Who coaches you or are you self-coached?

Lynn: I currently train with the Carleton Varsity and Masters teams, and occasionally with Technosport. In fact, I have many coaches!

My main coach is John Waring, head coach of the Carleton Varsity team. He's the one who I discuss my racing schedule with and rely on for advice (which I usually listen to!).

My other coaches include Blake Christie, Kristi Dean and Mits Kachi (Carleton Masters), Tarek Raafat (Carleton Varsity), and Duane Jones (Technosport). Also, Caroline Waring, John's wife, is my yoga instructor. While I do train on my own sometimes, I much prefer training with a group. I'm convinced that I swim faster when a coach is watching and/or if I have someone to swim with! It takes a very dedicated individual to train alone all the time.

On the subject of coaching, I have recently completed my Level 1 certification as a swim coach and really enjoy it. If I'm allowed some free advertising, I'd like to mention that I'm considering setting up some individual or small group advanced stroke technique classes for triathletes and others. Anyone who's interested can contact me at or (613) 828-1643.

RW: On an unrelated level, tell us about the "Tall People's" club. What's that all about?

Lynn: In October, 1995, Paul Dobrovolny and I founded the Ottawa-Hull Tall Club, a member of Tall Clubs International (TCI), a group of more than 60 clubs in North America. The Tall Club is a non-profit social club for tall people. The membership guidelines are 5'10" for women and 6'2" for men. We organize weekly activities of anything from dinner, theatre or a movie, to pool, hiking, and skiing.

In closing, Lynne, I'd like to thank you - and the Runner's Web - very much for inviting me to give this interview.

Contact Lynne via email @

For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.

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