Centenarian Still Enjoys Life in the Deep End

A Centenarian tells Jayne MacAulay how he maintains vigour, joy and vitality using his own four-part formula.

Photography by Dale Roth

At 101 (at the time of publication in July 2010), Jaring Timmerman stands like the athlete he is — erect, balanced and alert. For more than 20 years, he has been scooping up medals and world records as a Masters-level swimmer, following a regimen he calls GEDS, an acronym that stands for genes, exercise, diet and spirit.

Genes. “My parents had high blood pressure and died in their mid-80s,” he says. “In my opinion, you can improve your genes through good habits. I watch my diet very carefully and exercise regularly so I attribute that to my living so much longer than they did.” (In fact, studies indicate exercise has a beneficial effect on telomeres, protective tips at the end of chromosomes. Shortened telomeres are a mark of aging.)

Exercise. Timmerman swims laps for at least 45 minutes three times a week at a pool near his Winnipeg home. Every day, he works through a modified set of exercises learned while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. (A navigator on Lancaster bombers, he survived 31 bombing missions.) He includes five-pound weights but exercises less strenuously on swim days. “They’re moderate exercises but help considerably in maintaining good health. I believe they will also increase your age span.”

Diet. “I don’t eat fat but do eat an egg every second day. Eggs have a lot of good qualities,” Timmerman says. “I eat walnuts and almonds and put peanut butter on my bread. I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit and I eat lean meat.” He doesn’t touch alcohol, noting that wine in moderation may be good for health, but it’s not his preference. (One puff of a cigarette during his Air Force days convinced him smoking was not for him.)

Spirit. Have a good relationship with your Maker, he advises. It leads to good relations with your neighbour, which lifts your spirits, making you keen for whatever you do. “Enthusiasm is a great thing,” he says, especially with a goal in mind.

Through swimming, he’s found goals aplenty. In 1989, at the age of 80, during an annual stay in Arizona, Timmerman’s wife urged him to enter the state’s Senior Olympic Games. He thought he would be defeated by “ex-college champs,” but a gold medal in the 200-metre freestyle qualified him for the first National Senior Olympic Games (now the National Senior Games) in St. Louis, Mo., where he won a gold and two silvers in the 80-84 age category. At the World Masters Games in Aarhus, Denmark, he had similar results.

Since then, he’s competed throughout Canada and the U.S., winning age-category titles in several provinces and states and, finally, national titles. At 96, Timmerman won five gold medals at the 2005 World Masters Games in Edmonton, though they weren’t world records.

By 2009, he’d met his goal of setting world records in the 100-104 age category in 50- and 100-metre backstroke and freestyle races, beating the clock in a heat alongside youngsters of 83 and 95 to capture his fourth record during the 2009 Canadian Masters Swimming Championship in Toronto. A mid-April knee replacement kept him out of the 2010 event in Nanaimo, B.C., this May, but with rehab exercises, he figures he’ll be back in the pool by July. After all, there will be records to break at the 2011 championships — his own.

(Summer, 2010)