Jaroslav Jelen inspires me.

All Masters Swimmers have a story to tell. While Jaroslav’s story transcends the pool, he has always had a connection with water and swimming has been a recurring theme in this story. He was a successful mathematics professor in Krakow University. He was well established in his career and enjoyed life with his family and friends. Of course, swimming was a major part of his life. However, he was concerned about the future of Poland, not for himself, but for his 11 year old son. Immigration was not possible in the 1970’s, so he had to plan an escape. He received permission to attend a mathematics conference in Rome. The government gave permission for his wife and son to attend with him. They left behind their careers, apartment, extended family and friends, only with a week-end suitcase. Of course one of the articles of clothing he took with him was a swim suit. Eventually, they ended up in Calgary and Jaroslav established himself in a career in the oil business. He was a member of a Calgary Masters Swimmers group.

Jaroslav retired to Summerland BC and joined the Orca Masters. He was the first swimmer to arrive and the last to leave each practice. He attended every regional and provincial meet. He was an avid open water swimmer in the summer and participated in the Kelowna Across the Lake swim. His quiet, determined demeanor was inspiring to the entire group of swimmers.

Jaroslav was interested in wood work and he designed and built a kayak. As with most woodworkers he had bruises and cuts, the trademark of a true craftsman. While swimming at the provincial swim meet two years ago he experienced shoulder pain. What he thought was an innocuous blackened bruise under his fingernail was instead a malignant melanoma that had spread. By the time it was diagnosed, he only lived a few more months. Even when he was terminally ill and had only a few days to live, he would go down to admire and appreciate the water. Jaroslav died at age 68.

Jaroslav inspired me both in the water and out. Jaroslav’s wife set up a bursary in his name to recognize a young Orca swimmer who shows similar determination. Hopefully, Jaroslav’s legacy will continue both in and out of the swimming pool.

– Don Gibbings, Summerland Orca Masters

Have a story about one of your lane mates you would like to share? Send it to editor@msabc.ca

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