Things continue along swimmingly

Mary McFarlane at a swim meet at Moana Pool last November. Photo: Staff photographer
Mary McFarlane at a swim meet at Moana Pool last November. Photo: Staff photographer
In a short series, the Otago Daily Times talks to people who do the mahi behind the scenes to keep their sport going. Reporter Jeff Cheshire talks to swimming official Mary McFarlane.

Mary McFarlane has been getting splashed for close to 50 years.

But she would not have it any other way.

The 83-year-old will mark a half-century at the pool side this year.

She has been involved with the Kiwi Swim Club through that entire time.

But her impact has been widespread.

She is a life member of both Swimming Otago and Swimming New Zealand.

On top of that she is the patron of the former, and has received an honours award for the latter.

Few people would have started more races, or kept time more often than McFarlane.

She has done so locally, nationally — where she was the chief time keeper — and at international meetings overseas.

Almost all of her costs she has paid for herself — although Kiwi began contributing towards those after discovering that.

Finding volunteer officials has become harder.

But even after all this time, it is something McFarlane still loves.

She continued to officiate in Dunedin, but had also been to meetings in Auckland, Hamilton and Samoa in 2019.

‘‘If they only realise you get to meet so many nice people and you get the best seat in the house,’’ she said.

‘‘OK you do get wet, but I do enjoy it.

‘‘After [husband] Paddy died [six years ago] I thought ‘this it it, I’m not going to do it now’.

‘‘But that’s where all my friends are.

‘‘Then you go to Auckland and that and you meet up with your friends and it’s just as if you’ve met them last week.’’

McFarlane began in the sport when her son Gregor was diagnosed with bad bronchitis.

It had been suggested that swimming might help him.

‘‘I thought ‘oh my God’.

‘‘I was teaching full-time, my two daughters were New Zealand champion Highland dancers and I was pipe major of the pipe band.

‘‘I thought ‘I haven’t got a spare night’.

‘‘Tuesday night was the only night I had free and that was Kiwi club.

‘‘That was how we started.’’

They both stuck with it.

Gregor went on to swim for New Zealand and, now 57, lives in London and continues to swim longer distances.

There had been plenty of highlights for Mary too.

A former teacher, she had done an exchange to Scotland for a year and officiated while there.

She also officiated at the Special Olympics and met their founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver — sister of former US president John F. Kennedy.

Seeing swimmers come through from children to high achievers was special, too.

The likes of Danyon Loader, Caitlin Deans and Erika Fairweather were all among those she has seen come into the sport and progress to thrive.

But she loved seeing the kids at the lowest level just as much.

‘‘I get just as much enjoyment out of going to Kiwi club ribbon nights and seeing the 8 and 9-year-olds getting a PB and getting a ribbon, they’re just so happy.

‘‘And I really love the Special Olympics, the Down syndrome kids, they clap if they get last and what the hell.

‘‘Some of our kids are not good losers, I’d have to say.

‘‘They carry on at the end of the pool and I have to say ‘excuse me, that’s not necessary’.’’

It is an enjoyment that just does not go away.

However, there will be no big announcement when she does decide she has had enough.

‘‘Eventually I will finish, but I won’t tell anyone, I’ll just sneak away.

‘‘There’s no way I could say this is my last meet and I’ll never see you again, I could never do that.’’

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