Swimmer Spotlight – Colette Crabbe


Swimmer Spotlight

Colette Crabbe; age 58
Swim instructor and coach
Workout group: Oregon Reign Masters

Colette Crabbe

Colette Crabbe

I grew up in Belgium and my first experience with swimming, or at least with water, was not a good one.  On a hot summer day in a small private backyard pool, I almost drowned.  I was 7 years old.  I had not yet learned how to swim and was playing in the water with my older sister and her friend.  At one point, they decided to leave but being already stubborn, I choose to stay just a little bit longer.  It did not take long before I slipped and found myself at the bottom of the pool with no way to get back up.  Fortunately, the mother of the friend saw them coming back inside without me and knew it was time to check, jumped in the water and saved me.  After that experience, my mom decided it was time for me to learn how to swim and brought me to the local public pool for my first lessons.  This was not an easy task!!!  I fought with all the swim instructors, screamed and was not going to put my head under water under any circumstances.  I was the dreaded student!!

After a long process and a lot of patience, I finally learned to swim and decided to join the swim team, because my sister was doing it.  I probably had a good sense for the water because not long after, I won my first local age group race.  I was 10 years old.  Swimming was then fun and I was motivated.  Unfortunately, when I was about 11 or 12, there was a conflict between the coach and the committee.  The coach decided to create a new swim team and my parents decided to follow him.  At that time in Belgium, the rules for transfer between teams were really tough.  If your old team did not accept to release you, you could not swim in competition for 2 full years.  That is how we started a 2-year training stint in a small 16 meter school pool, probably no more than 3 feet deep in the shallow end.  After that, we were ready and we started to break all sort of Belgian records and became one of the strongest swim teams in the country.

I also started to be selected for the Belgian National Team and travelled all over Western Europe for competition.  We only saw our strong rivals from Eastern countries (mostly the “girls” from Eastern Germany) at the big competitions such as European or World Championships.  Personally, between 1974 and 1979, I had the privilege to be selected at most of the big international competitions: 1974 – European championship in Vienna; 1975 – Worlds in Cali, Columbia; 1976 – Olympic games in Montreal; 1977 – European Champions, Jönkopig, Sweden; 1978 – Worlds, Berlin, Germany; 1979, University Games, Mexico.

In 1980, I graduated with a degree in business from the University of Liege (Belgium), got married, started working with Citibank, Belgium, founded a family, had three daughters and did not swim.  In 1989, we moved to Oregon for my husband’s job.  In 1998, I heard about the World Master Games which were going to take place in Portland, and it inspired me to get back in the water.  I started in May with about 45 minute workouts by myself at the local gym 3 times a week.  I registered for the races I was used to doing, mainly 400 IM, 200 breast, 800 free.  Big mistake!!!  You need to be fit for those events.  I finished, but it was painful.  On the other hand, it motivated me to get back in shape.  At the same time, one of my daughters, Claire, started swimming with Oregon City Swim Team and they allowed me to swim with them too.  I was hooked again.

I also learned a lot about Masters swimming and here are a few of my mantras:  Master swimming is for life; enjoy it; do not overdo it; listen to your body; improve your technique, for it will make swimming so much easier; learn the four strokes, it is a challenge but it will allow variety and fun in your workouts.  Join a Masters swim team and you will meet a huge group of supportive friends who will be there for you during all the ups and downs of life.

When my daughter Claire joined the high school swim team, I volunteered as an assistant coach, which turned into a head coach position two years later.  I also started coaching a small summer league and enjoyed teaching swim lessons at the public pool.  Between 2011 and 2015 we were back in Belgium where I coached the Brussels British School swim team, an age group team at the local swim center.  I also swam with their Masters group and particularly enjoyed teaching technique to the Masters and the triathletes.  While swimming in Belgium, I noticed a few surprising facts:  pool lap swimming was way more busy than in the States (no question of having your own lane, you better learn circle swimming) and you can see a lot more breaststroke, especially among the older people.  Starting at 8:30AM, the school kids start coming in and invading all the lanes, so there are about 20 to 25 per lane from high school to kindergarten age.  Knowing how to swim is part of the curriculum in grade school, and last but not least, there is a pub in every public pool in Belgium, so it makes it so much easier for the social recovery drink after workout.

As for Masters swimming in Brussels, the basic philosophy is the same.  I met a big group of interesting people from all walks of life, ages and nationalities who became my friends.  My fondest memory while swimming with them was being part of their 4 x 50 free relay which won the 200-240 category at the World Masters Championship in Riccione, in 2012.  Being an IMer and not having a real weak stroke, it also allowed me to beat all the individual Belgian records in my age category in both long course and short course meters (no yards of course).  I was also able to put my names on some European records in 200 and 400 IM, 100 fly and 200 back.

Since January, I am back in Portland and swimming with the Oregon Reign.  I just certified as a Masters coach and hope to be able to volunteer more next year to share some of my enthusiasm and swimming experience with the whole Oregon Masters community.

Karen’s Note: Since 1998, Colette has made the USMS top ten list in 230 individual events and 42 relays.  She has set nine USMS National Records.

—submitted by Karen Andrus-Hughes

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