Of the four national and 11 provincial age-group swimming records Coldstream’s Mike Stamhuis has set in 2018, it’s the national 4 x 100 mixed medley mark he established with three other Vernon Masters Swim Club members that leave him shaking his head.
Stamhuis swam the breaststroke leg in that race in Calgary, with Hella Versfeld swimming backstroke, Kurt Ouchi doing the butterfly and Marilyn Courtenay swimming freestyle.
The breaststroke is to Stamhuis, a freestyle and backstroke specialist, as the marathon is to sprinter Usain Bolt.
“I didn’t think we had a chance with me doing the breaststroke,” said Stamhuis, a retired chief administrative officer with the District of Coldstream. “I got up on the starting block and I didn’t think we could win. Kurt was laughing his head off at me. I swam not too bad, Kurt swam great and we ended up winning.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever won a national medal in the breaststroke, and likely the last.”
The breaststroke seems to have skipped a generation in the Stamhuis family.
His mom, Conny, 86, who lives in Kelowna, was top-10 in her native Holland in the event before immigrating with husband, Jan, a non-competitive swimmer, to Canada. She is a world age group breaststroke champion.
Stamhuis’ son, John, was a three-time national champion in the discipline.
His aversion to the breaststroke happened when Stamhuis was 15, and swimming at the B.C. championships at the old Empire Pool at UBC, a 55-yard pool, which is a foot-and-a-half larger than an Olympic-sized pool. He entered the 200-breast, swam and finished the race, then asked his coach about his performance.
“He had these conversion charts, Able’s Tables, which converts the time from long course to short course. I asked him how I did, he opened the tables, went, ‘hmm, uh, Mike the tables don’t go that high,” laughed Stamhuis. “That was the last time I ever swam the 200-breaststroke.”
Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Stamhuis began swimming at eight in Port Coquitlam. His swim instructor asked if he could swim a length of the 25-metre pool. Starting in the deep end, so as to finish in the shallow end so he could stand if he didn’t make it, Stamhuis completed the task and broke the pool record for eight and under boys.
“The head coach/founder of the Coquitlam Sharks Summer Swim Club, Jim Duncan, bought me a Coke and talked me into joining the competitive swim club,” said Stamhuis.
He remained a competitive swimmer into his 20s, and swam a couple of years for the UBC Thunderbirds, capturing a school Big Block honour. Stamhuis studied engineering but discovered that schooling was interfering with his swimming and vice-versa.
“I wasn’t one of those brilliant guys that could do both so I wasn’t really satisfied,” said Stamhuis. “There was a much better future in engineering than swimming.”
Engineering took Stamhuis to Prince Rupert, where he was the branch manager of a consulting firm for seven years before joining the City of Prince Rupert as its chief engineer for six years. It was there he got back into swimming, joining the masters club at age 30.
A move to the North Okanagan came next and Stamhuis has kept on swimming.
In 2017, his mom and her 93-year-old friend decided they wanted to go to the biannual World Masters Aquatic Championships, being held in Budapest, Hungary. Figuring the women shouldn’t go alone, Stamhuis amped up his training regimen to compete as one of the oldest competitors in his then age group, 60-64.
He competed in the maximum five events allowed and was top-10 in all of his events (Conny won a gold and some silver medals).
Knowing he would be moving up an age group to 65-69 in 2018 (he turns 65 in September), being at the young end of that spectrum and seeing some age-group records he wanted to break, Stamhuis continued to rigorously train.
He swims five days a week at the Vernon Recreation Complex, three times in the morning and twice in the evenings, an hour each, completes one 90-minute session at Kelowna’s H2O facility (long-course pool) and hits the weights.
His first meet in 2018 was a small home event. Stamhuis dragged himself out of bed, having battled a nasty flu bug, and swam the 200 backstroke, breaking the national record by nine seconds.
At the provincial finals in April, Stamhuis entered seven events and set two national records and five provincial marks. He jokes that he actually set seven-and-a-quarter records as he swam the anchor freestyle leg in the 4 x 50m medley relay with Gerry Martselos, Bryan Goble and Ouchi.
“Our team’s total age was almost 200 and there was this young team from Vancouver, they thought they were great, seeded first,” said Stamhuis. “They only beat us by one-tenth of a second. Their anchor left a little bit ahead of me and I ran out of the pool at the end. It was a really exciting race.”
Three weeks later, Stamhuis was in Calgary for the national masters’ finals. He swam seven events, won five and finished second in the 100- and 200-IM races to national record holder Ron Armstrong of Toronto. And he swam that memorable breaststroke leg in the mixed medley relay.
“I was really excited in Calgary,” he said. “I broke another national record, my fourth one this year, and all of the other swims were provincial records of mine that I broke. I swam slightly faster in Calgary than Richmond so I was quite excited by that.”
Loving the feeling of being in the water and calling it, for him, “nothing comparable for a workout as to how good you feel after,” Stamhuis attributes his success to his goal setting and hard work, coaches like Renate Terpstra and Melissa Spooner, and the camaraderie with his fellow masters.
“He is the hardest worker I know,” said Terpstra. “Every practice he gives it all and I have to tell him to slow down and to swim easy. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he is doing so well.”
“I really appreciate that we have a great program here in Vernon, it’s why I train as much as I do,” said Stamhuis, also drawing inspiration from his mom and his wife, Trish. “We have great coaches and great swimmers who inspire me to work hard. It’s great to swim with all of them.”