The 2024 Winter Youth Olympics may have kicked off last week, but the athlete currently winning my heart is Betty Brussel, a 99-year-old swimmer who broke three world records over the weekend.
At a swim meet in Saanich, British Columbia, on Saturday, Brussel swam the 400-meter freestyle in 12 minutes and 50 seconds, breaking the world record in her age group by almost four minutes, the Washington Post reports. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she went on to break the record in the 50-meter backstroke and the 50-meter breaststroke, too. Brussel swims in the 100-to-104-year-old group because groups are determined by birth year, not age.
“When I’m racing, I don’t think about anything. Nothing. I just count the laps, so that I know how many I have left. I always try to find a pace that I can sustain — you’re asking a lot from your body in these races. And on the last lap, well, I give it everything I have,” she told the Guardian. Brussel told the Globe and Mail that she even surprised herself with her performance.
Brussel was born in Holland in 1924 and learned to swim in Amsterdam’s canals with her siblings. She told the Post that as one of 12 children growing up during World War II, she didn’t have the luxury of participating in extracurriculars. Her parents took her out of school when she was 14 to help care for her siblings.
In 1959, she and her husband moved to Canada, where they raised three children while she cleaned houses for a living and later became a seamstress. When Brussel retired in 1982, she began filling her time with activities like swimming. She was well into her 60s by the time she entered her first swim competition. “I swam one-lane breaststroke, and I did not even do it right,” she told the Post. “I started from the ground up.” Since then, she has competed and won in several competitions, including the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah.
Brussel told several outlets that she swims at least twice a week and that winning this weekend made her feel more confident: “I never really felt special, but now I’m starting to get a tiny bit proud of myself,” she said.