Canada Artistic Swimming to honour builders and alumni as it begins a year of reflection and celebration on its 50th anniversary

It was the perfect occasion, with hundreds of young artistic swimmers, parents and coaches gathered for a competition named in her honour, to bestow the first ever Canada Artistic Swimming Honorary Life Membership to Leslie Taylor.

It was this past March at the 2019 Leslie Taylor Ontario Cup, at the Nepean Sportsplex in Ottawa, when Leslie’s tireless dedication, and passion for the sport for more than 60 years was recognized.

A volunteer, a coach, a builder and a judge – in one capacity or another Leslie has touched the lives of thousands of artistic swimmers since she began her involvement back in 1968.

The presentation also provided the opportunity to have a far-ranging conversation with this icon, and to reflect on her love of the sport, and ‘her girls’ as she called them. As she regaled the small group gathered with her many memories of her coaching years and her time as a judge, it was obvious just how much passion she had, and still brings, to artistic swimming.

She started out coaching a small group of girls in Hamilton where she was the aquatic director. “I loved that this was a sport where girls could excel,” she recalls. With some encouragement, she became affiliated with Synchro Ontario, now Ontario Artistic Swimming, where very shortly the team from Dalewood began to dominate.

It was Leslie’s commitment that took the “Dalewood Ducks” to success at every age group. Whether it was sewing headpieces herself, coaching at pool side, or driving athletes to and from competitions, she was dedicated to her teams. She described her approach to coaching as, “I believed in working with the kids and not being too stern. It was important that they had fun.” And no member of her team was ever left behind – as Leslie herself made sure everyone took part, and often paid for travel herself if that was a difficulty for one of her team members.

This philosophy was echoed during the presentation that day to Leslie by Margaret White, one of her ‘Ducks’ who is now a medical doctor in Ottawa.

“Leslie taught me from the age of 8, and she was so encouraging and a lot of fun. She saw potential in everyone and elevated your game.” Leslie’s influence on Margaret went beyond her time in artistic swimming. “She developed a sense in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. She inspired me to coach, and she was behind my success in life.”

Margaret White’s duet partner also went on to a highly successful career in medicine. Dr. Margaret Mountjoy recalls the influence Leslie had on her life. “We traveled the world together, and at the same time, she traveled beside me along my journey from a young girl to womanhood. Leslie shaped who I am today in many more ways than I think she even realizes – pushing me to reach beyond the boundaries of expectation, believing in myself, teaching me the benefits of hard work/ perseverance, and the value of team work. ‘Everything is possible’ was Leslie’s mantra, and I am very grateful for the positive influence that Leslie has had in my life.”

Described as a 2nd mom to many of her girls, after 10 years of successful coaching, Leslie turned her focus to judging. Within a few years, she had worked her way to become a FINA ‘A” International judge. She became well known for her use of video to train judges at the national and international level. She still marvels at the way the sport has developed, “it has really expanded and grown over the years, now we see such height and power.”

Being chosen to judge at the 2000 Olympic Summer Games in Sydney was the pinnacle of her judging career. She recalls the friendliness of the Australian volunteers, “we couldn’t even mention that we liked something or we wanted to go somewhere, or before we knew it, someone would getting it for us, or ready to drive us to that spot. It was really a marvelous experience.”

And while she loved judging, her heart always remained with the athletes. On the day of the presentation, although Leslie was the person being honoured, she was in full inspirational, coach mode. As she helped present a gift to each of the members of Canada Artistic Swimming’s Senior National Team, she was giving each one a pep talk as she went down the line.

“You have to work really hard, you have to want it very badly, you can win – you really can get to the Olympics if you want it enough.”

Another one of Leslie’s athletes, Mary-Jane Ling who is currently a coach and Ontario Artistic Swimming board member, spoke at the presentation with fondness of Leslie’s well-deserved ‘shopper extraordinaire’ reputation, but added,

“it was a privilege to have been coached by you for my entire swimming career and an honour to have remained friends for all these years.”

Representing the judging community, Suzanne Laroche noted that Leslie inspired her to advance her judging levels. She recalled the hours that Leslie would spend making instructional videos, and that without her influence “we wouldn’t be where we are in the sport without so many strong judges in the world.”

The members of the CAS Board of Directors unanimously chose to recognize one of the true heroines of the sport with the unique honour of becoming the first Honorary Life Member of Canada Artistic Swimming. Judi Enns Bradette, the CAS President said,

“On behalf of Canada Artistic Swimming’s Board of Directors, I would like to thank you for your years of dedication to our sport, as a leader in so many ways, coach; provincial, national and international official; and volunteer on many committees and boards.” And on a personal note, she added, “I feel honoured to be sending you these best wishes, since as a swimmer and later as a coach, I saw first hand your many contributions to our sport.”

Leslie Taylor may represent almost a bygone era of the sport, yet her legacy will live on for many years. She put her athletes first, she made training and competing fun, and most of all, she encouraged and inspired them to see possibilities for their lives far beyond the pool. She was truly the role model of the inspirational, motivational competitive coach.

Perhaps this comment from Dr. Margo Mountjoy sums up the impact Leslie had on her life, and the lives of so many others.

“Thank you Leslie for devoting your life to our great sport; and most importantly, for sharing your time, energy and ‘fun-spirit’ with the many young women who had the privilege of working with you over the years; we will always save a sweet spot in our hearts for you.”