Four years ago, Llandudno resident Jane Hulley, 74, was prompted by her elder sisters Susan Leuner and Anne Jones to accompany them to the Fina Masters World Swimming Championships in Montreal, Canada.
Although from a “family of water babies”, Ms Hulley had not swum competitively for more than 50 years, unlike her sisters who had competed in Masters competitions for the best part of three decades. Ms Leuner also represented South Africa at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where she won a bronze medal.
As a cycling enthusiast, events like the Cape Town (formerly Cape Argus) Cycle Tour were more Ms Hulley’s speed, and she was understandably a little apprehensive about taking to the water again.
However, with the encouragement of Hout Bay resident and open water swimming specialist, Charles Reid, she took the decision to go into training, if for no other reason than to join her sisters and keep up her fitness levels.
“My first swim was an open water swim at the Bridge House Mile in Franschhoek. I managed to do that, and went from there.”
What has transpired since is nothing short of breathtaking. Though Ms Hulley plays down her achievements, her collection of medals bear testimony to the impact she has made in the 65 to 70 and 70 to 75 age categories in South African Masters Swimming (SAMS) competition.
Earlier this month, she returned from the SAMS Long Course Championships in East London with no fewer than six gold medals, a silver and a bronze, including a gold for the open water swim held at Wriggleswade Dam near Stutterheim.
“There are only about five or six swimmers in my age group. My sister Susan holds the records in most categories, and she and my closest rival didn’t compete this year. So you must consider that,” a humble Ms Hulley said.
“To me, there are remarkable stories that come out of Masters. There is a 92-year-old woman who is still swimming competitively, and Jane Asher, an English woman of 86, is known as the ‘Swimming Granny’ throughout the world. She has done incredible things, and continues to break world records.”
Regardless of Ms Hulley’s humility, the fact remains it is not every 74-year-old who has such commitment. Three times a week, she heads to the indoor swimming pool at Camps Bay Primary to swim laps to keep herself at peak performance levels under the guidance of well-known coach Wendy Way.
“I do get people telling me they can’t believe what I’ve done, but really, anyone can do it provided you are willing to do it. I’m very lucky to have the support of my three children and my husband Butch. They’ve been very encouraging.”
Surprisingly, while Ms Hulley’s beautiful home is located only a few hundred metres from Llandudno beach, she is not a fan of swimming in these waters.
“The sea is too cold. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to swimming at Llandudno,” she quipped.