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Rideau Speedeaus get wet, let loose

Ottawa's queer swimmers host weekend meet

WATERSPORTS. Participants chat at Swimmers in Heat, Feb 2. Credit: (Ben Myers)

The Rideau Speedeaus swimming club commandeered the University of Ottawa pool Feb 2 for their annual swim meet, Swimmers in Heats.

Never ones to miss a pun, they call the meet Allo à l’Eau in French. Indeed, a sense of humour prevails.

Equipped with a blonde wig and evening gloves, Erin Gillis prepared for the Pink Flamingo, a bizarre mix of athletics and theatrics. She played the part of the Lady of the Water in a relay event modeled after Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Swimmers chased each other accompanied by a teammate acting as their steed, while bandits, swimming with back-scratchers in hand, played the role of spoilers trying to slow down the pairs.

Jen Carroll, the team’s female co-chair, is baffled by the particular quirk of the queer meet.

“I asked someone about it, and they said it was beyond description,” says Carroll.

For Carroll and the rest of the Speedeaus, Swimmers in Heats is the culmination of a fall training schedule — but that doesn’t mean it?s all serious. Swimmers tried to best a personal time, beat the competition, or just enjoy themselves among a group of aqua-enthusiasts.

“The pool is the main focus, but we have regular social events, both formal and informal,” says Stephen Slessor, the team’s co-chair. The team is both a master’s swim club and a gay-positive space for people in the queer community to simply be themselves and enjoy the water.

Doug Peck, who represented the Speedeaus in a number of relay heats and in the Pink Flamingo, said the Speedeaus reignited his love for swimming when he moved to Ottawa.

“I moved here about a year and a half ago and I used to swim as a kid,” Peck says. “I left the sport in frustration and now re-learned how fun the sport is.”

With fluctuating numbers around 50 regular club members, the Speedeaus range from athletic to casual enthusiasts. Their learn-to-swim program allows people with no experience to finally get over their fear of hopping into the great blue unknown.

Like other mixed gay-lesbian groups, the Rideau Speedeaus struggles to attract women in large numbers.

“One of the criticisms of gay sports organizations in general is that many of them are very male-focused,” Slessor says.

This is one of the preconceptions that Carroll, as female co-chair, is hoping to dispel. Carroll herself started out in the Speedeaus without much swimming experience.

“I started in the learn-to-swim program, [not] knowing how to get myself safely out to the island at the cottage and back without drowning,” she says. Not only did she learn how to swim, but also how to swim properly.

“I was one of the ones who thought they knew how to do breast stroke,” Carroll said. “But [I] did some weird froggy thing not in any way related to breast stroke.”

This year’s swim meet featured 76 swimmers from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Gatineau and as far away as Detroit. Queer teams from across the province were invited, as well as master’s swim clubs in Ottawa, making the event mixed and eclectic.

Proceeds from the weekend will be donated to the Ten Oaks, Canada’s only sleep-away camp for children and teens in queer families. The funds will be directed to the camp’s swimming program.

“They have a huge, developed swimming program,” Slessor says. “But they have lifeguards that they need to have certified and trained, [and] they need to buy equipment.”