Making a big splash has become something of a tradition for the Rideau Speedeaus Swim Club.
A sneak peak into the historic archives will tell you the Speedeaus are primarily a lesbian, gay and bisexual swim team which values “inclusiveness, diversity, fun, openness, trust, communication and a safe and supportive environment.”
Since 1991, however, members of Ottawa’s swim team “with a difference” have also been organizing one of the biggest parties in town after their annual swim meet during the February blahs, stripping off their swimsuits after a long day of competition in favor of more glamorous party attire.
This year’s party, with its “Three Waves and Four Strokes” theme, is slated to be their biggest splash yet, “one that is intended to be a little bit more interactive,” says Nelson Hickey, one of the event organizers.
The swim meet has become one of North America’s most highly respected gay and lesbian sporting events, bringing together swimmers from across Canada and the US. As hosts, the Rideau Speedeaus are determined “not to leave visitors out in the cold,” says chair Jeff Bullard.
The tradition of the Speedeaus’ party has been growing steadily since the first bash was thrown in 1991 at the old Tactics, just a year after the group originally formed.
The following year they held it at Arts Court. Quickly it became one of the most talked-about events on the gay circuit, offering swimmers an opportunity to socialize and mingle with Ottawa’s effervescent partygoers.
The ever-growing popularity of this event had the Speedeaus in want of a new venue, something larger, somewhere where they could make more of a splash. “We were the first gay organization to hold a party at Barrymore’s, [in 1993],” Bullard proudly claims.
It was only three years before that historic Barrymore’s bash that the swim club began, just a few months prior to the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver, the first Gay Games to take place outside the United States. With the idea that perhaps a swim club could grow and continue in the city, a small group of Ottawa gay swimmers decided they should get together and swim together in preparation for Vancouver. Much to their surprise, recreational and competitive swimming enthusiasts in the gay and lesbian community came out in droves, and so began the organization of a sports club that is now a legally registered entity with a functioning board and a constitution of its own.
“Team members at that time had a meeting, and people offered all kinds of names, one of them The Friends of Dorothy Swim Club, some wanted an overtly gay name. Others felt that many of the members wanted the protection of anonymity,” says Bullard.
The Rideau Speedeaus are now a member of IGLA, the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics, as well as Masters Swimming Ontario, “an adult swimming program designed to encourage fitness through swimming.”
But over the past 13 years, the Speedeaus have become known as much for what they do after their swim meets as what they do in the water.
“The Rideau Speedeaus have had to create opportunities when they’re not swimming so that the club can have more social engagement. It’s important for the health of the club,” says Bullard.
“Because you’re there to swim and you can’t always talk to everybody in the pool, you have a limited time before swimming and after swimming. The pool environment is a limiting opportunity for social activity.
“We’re rising to the challenge of the changing needs of our members and the community,” Bullard says.
Philippe Colas, a member of Montreal’s gay and lesbian swim club A Contre-Courant, says the Speedeaus have met that challenge amazingly well.
He’s participated in the Ottawa swim meets from the very beginning. “One of the most important assets of the swim meet is the ability for Rideau Speedeaus to make it very informal, yet professional, and therefore make you feel comfortable in meeting people from different places. Going to Barrymore’s makes commingling even more possible, as it ends in a relaxed and joyful way after a hectic and stressful day. And sports people love to be among their peers and celebrate together.”
And the club promises that this year’s party is going to be something special, even by their standards.
“We’re really going to try to create an atmosphere at the party,” says Hickey. “We don’t just want people to see Barrymore’s, we want them to see something different when they walk in.
“The Three Waves come from the three DJs – Rise Ashen, Jean Phillip and Samojlenko with Jonny Shockah. The Four Strokes represent the four strokes of swimming and the four strokes of the clock. “We have three waves of sound and four hours to party,” says Hickey.
“We’re going to have Emily Webster, who’s going to do a live painting depicting something along the theme of the Four Strokes of swimming which will run through closed circuit televisions throughout Barrymore’s.”
Multi-media artist Sonia Vani is also adding something different. “We are going to have a slide presentation as well as a video from the meet that day that’s going to tie together the party with the swim meet,” says Hickey. “A lot of people don’t realize that the swim meet goes on during the day and then we have this party afterwards.”
And to heat things up a little, local singer/songwriter Peggy White, on the heels of her newly released CD titled Fair is Fair, is making her first guest appearance at Barrymore’s that evening. “Peggy White is a shimmering light with a voice so smooth it cuts right through you, directly to your soul,” says Melanie Porter, founder of Women’s Voices Festival.
“This year we’re trying to accommodate all different age groups, so that’s the whole idea of having the three different waves of sound,” says Hickey. The sounds he is referring to include organic house and breaks, techno and trance, pop dance and R&B.
SWIMMERS IN HEATS 2003 SWIM MEET.
University of Ottawa, Montpetit Hall.
Sat, Feb 15, 8AM.
THREE WAVES, FOUR STROKES DANCE PARTY.
Sat, Feb 15, 10PM.
Barrymores Music Hall.
323 Bank St.