At 77, Spruce Grove, Alberta’s Loretta Patterson shows no signs of slowing down her Masters synchronized swimming career. At the Budapest 2017 FINA World Masters Championships, she won the gold medal in the 70-79 age group for her solo technical routine, took silver in the free routine, then teamed with Marjorie Anderson to finish second in the duet technical routine, and win gold in the duet free routine.
Aquatics Canada recognized her accomplishments by naming her as the Masters Athlete of the Year for 2017. The selection criteria indicates the award goes to “an athlete who chooses their sport as a sport for life and continues to compete and contribute to the sport.”
When she first heard the news, Loretta was quite surprised that she was being recognized for something she loves to do! Growing up in Edmonton, she started swimming at an early age, as well as taking ballet lessons and playing the piano. When Diane Black moved from Vancouver to begin a synchronized swimming club, Loretta found a sport that combined her love of swimming with dance and performance. So in her Grade 8 year, the young teen became a member of the Aquadettes, swimming out of the Victoria Composite Pool in a local high school. As Loretta says, “It was heaven! The best days at school were the days I was swimming.”
She began competing about two years after the club began, travelling from Edmonton by train with her teammates to her first meet in Vancouver. The competition in the early 1950s included a stroke portion, where you swam a length of a stroke while the judges walked along the pool deck and gave you a mark. The strokes were; head first sculling, propeller, breaststroke, inverted breast stroke and side stroke! There were also the figures, and free routines – no technical routines were part of the competition at that time.
Her next meet was in Montreal, where the team again travelled by train from Edmonton over several days. She recalls their free routine was built around a clown/circus concept – wearing ping pong balls over their nose clips to look like a clown nose, and being able to use props at the side of the pool.
She continued her synchro swimming through to university, with a small scholarship to attend the University of Alberta. While completing her degree in Physical Education, she would compete in one meet a year, representing the university.
Synchro swimming was put on the shelf for nearly 30 years as she married, and raised a family of three girls and one boy. Although she swam regularly, she focused on swimming lengths, rather than practicing synchro moves during a free swim. She also taught school at the high school, junior high and elementary levels.
With her family nearly grown, Loretta realized in her mid-40s that her passion for synchronized swimming was still there. She went to the YWCA in Edmonton and began swimming with the adult swimmers. She had to relearn her sculling technique, as the current style was completely different from the one she had learned in the 1950s. She still swims on Mondays and Wednesdays with the Aquadettes, and on Saturdays with the Edmonton AquaMasters.
A teaching stint in Beijing, China for eight years put her synchro career on hold, as now widowed, she joined her daughter and son-in-law (and two grandchildren) to teach at an international school. Once she came back to Canada, she resumed her synchro lifestyle which has taken her all over the world. Her first Masters competition was in Sheffield, England, and she’s also competed in the Pan American Masters in Florida, and meets in Montreal. She cheerfully admits to loving the travel aspect of competitions and visiting new countries.
She gives credit to her coach Meaghan Hipkin for being so patient and creative. “I might take a little longer to learn something, but Meaghan breaks it down until I get it.” Loretta appreciates what staying active in synchro means for her. “I’m still enjoying it. It keeps me fit, gives me more energy throughout the day, and I’m happier after I’ve swum.” She also enjoys the socializing side of the sport, with a wide age-range of swimmers who go out for coffee together.
Loretta also feels that staying active in synchro helps her mental fitness as well as her physical fitness. “Remembering the sequence of strokes and figures helps my brain. And I have to keep trying, because it might not get it the first time.” And she applies a life learning philosophy to the sport as she finds alternative ways of doing things, realizing that there isn’t just one way to do something.
Her love of the sport has been passed on now to the third generation of athletes in her family. Daughters Anna-Lisa and Jennifer competed for Canada, and were coached by Leslie Sproule. Jennifer’s daughter Amy Parker was on the Canadian Junior National Team and Jennifer now coaches the Aurora Club in Edmonton.
Loretta’s advice to others is Keep Fit. Eat Properly. And you’ll have a better life. She has obviously taken her own advice, as she looks forward to many more years of enjoying swimming for life and competing at the Masters competitions.