Joan Gunn-Allard's passion for swimming and coaching is contagious.
She's recently returned from the 55-Plus Summer Games with five gold medals, four of them on solo events, and fully intends to participate in the 55-Plus Summer Games in Quebec City with her Zone 2 teammates next year.
Even when she's not in the pool competing, she almost single-handedly charges the atmosphere poolside, cheering on teammates, loud and proud.
Joan has been coaching Special Olympians since she was a resident of Salt Spring Island, B.C. Upon returning to Alberta, she stepped forward to help coach special needs adults in Calgary. She coaches with a private group from fall until spring and with Special Olympics Calgary.
"It's so gratifying," she says. "It's hard to put into words how I feel. When these wonderful young adults come up and say thank you, give me a hug, and say 'Great workout, Joan,' you know, it's awesome. It's totally awesome."
She was proud to be selected as the training coach for Abby Wilson, who medalled at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany in June.
"I was absolutely honoured that Special Olympics Calgary chose me to be her training coach, and she came home with gold, silver, and a fourth place."
Joan began master swimming about 12 years ago when dropping her daughter at the ferry early one morning.
"I thought, I'm up, I've had breakfast, I'm dressed, now what am I going to do?"
"So I did, and then I met a gentleman who was swimming and we became swim pals and started travelling to swim meets with his wife and my now ex-husband. We went to Italy, went to Vancouver, went to Victoria, went to Nanaimo, and just started swimming competitively."
It didn't stop after she moved back to Alberta in 2018, nor when she moved to Cochrane last fall.
She's been highly active with the Cochrane Masters Swim Club since arriving, and looks forward to when the club's season opens in October. She's hoping that she will be able to assist with coaching.
"I've got my first level coaching, so I hope to join Amy and Max and work with everybody, you know, young and old, because I have to tell you, I'm 67, and the world is not slowing me down."
Joan has swam in numerous nationals and is convinced people shouldn't be afraid to compete.
"I try to dispel the myth that, oh, I'm not good enough to swim in a competition. Well, of course you are. Everybody is. It doesn't matter if you come first or you come last. You go and enjoy yourself and find out where you're at, and that's a good thing."
She says finishing first isn't top of mind when she hits the pool.
"It's an added bonus for me to be first or top 10. It's how I do against my personal best times. If I beat them, the whole pool knows because I holler. If I'm not OK with my time, I need to work harder in the next one."
She especially enjoys helping others when competing at the 55-Plus Games, reflecting on some swimmers she met when the games were hosted by St. John, NB in 2018.
"I met some really cool ladies from the Yukon who had never swam before in that type of competition. So I was able to give some assistance on turns and starts. I really enjoy helping people. I'm certainly no expert. I can always do better. I can always swim faster. My stroke can always be better. But I've been doing it long enough that I can help people, and that's what I enjoy most about swimming."
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