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79-year-old artistic swimmer Jeanne Ansley shares her love for the water

City of Leeds’ artistic swimmer Jeanne Ansley has shared her life-long passion for the sport after her gold at the Swim England Artistic Swimming National Masters Championships 2023.

Jeanne, who was a founding member of the City of Leeds Synchronised Swimming Club in 2008, received a standing ovation from the judges for her display that won gold in the Free Solo for the 70-79 Years age group at the Championships in Sheffield earlier this month.

The 79-year old still swims five days a week in West Yorkshire and teaches around 60 children in swimming and artistic swimming every Sunday.

And it’s Jeanne’s love for the sport that has made her determined to continue in the sport.

“It’s what I’ve always known.” She said.

“I really enjoy it. I like music, I like dance and I like swimming. And then I just like showing off and performing as you can tell.

“I get pleasure from teaching people to learn to swim so quickly and it’s the safety aspect of swimming as well. It’s so important.

“Artistic swimming has brought me so many friends in every part of the world and we get to meet up every year. Europeans one year and then World’s the next.

“And it’s traveling the world that keeps me going now. I’m currently preparing to go to the World Championships in Doha next February.

“I just love it. I don’t have holidays as such anymore because I make swimming my holidays.”

‘I’m as fit as a fiddle’

Jeanne’s display at Ponds Forge was her first national competition since 2019 and she admitted it was an overwhelming feeling to get that response from the crowd and the artistic swimming community.

“It was so overwhelming. I think it was the first time that I’ve seen all the judges give a standing ovation to a performer.

“And it wasn’t just them. There was the people in the timing suite that were all stood up and applauding as well as the crowd, it was really special.

“I haven’t competed in nationals since before the pandemic but to get a response like that was really overwhelming.”

Jeanne first competed in national competition back in 1972 and has regularly travelled internationally to compete across the globe.

She comes from a family full of athletes. Her sister who used to be a county level swimmer and her husband reached a similar level as well as being a regular water polo player.

Jeanne’s son, Gavin, was also a keen swimmer but opted to become a semi-professional footballer like her father.

Jeanne was also a high level diver and finished eighth in a national competition for the 1m Springboard back in the 1960’s. However it was her love of dance as a child that led her to her life in artistic swimming.

“When I was young, after the war, I think I was around eight year’s old and I said ‘can I do dancing and swimming?’ But my mum said, you’ve got to choose, you can’t do both.

“So didn’t I make a good choice?” she jokes.

As well as being a founder of the City of Leeds she was also the first Middlesex County Secretary and helped to set up artistic swimming within the county.

And after a lifetime in the sport Jeanne feels healthy and is looking forward to moving up to the next age category next year.

“I’m as fit as a fiddle.

“It has given me really good core strength and I just feel healthy. And most importantly going swimming keeps me happy.

“All the friends I’ve made they’re great. Everyone was so nice Sheffield, as that is where I did my first master’s competition in 1996 so it’s gone full circle.

“I swim nearly every day I only really miss Saturdays. Sometimes I miss Monday, but that’s If my body tells me I need to rest, that’s what I do.

“When I go to the world’s, I’ll be in the eighties too infinity group.” She jests.

‘I like an audience’

Jeanne’s performances in the pool have inspired a number of people to get involved in artistic swimming and she’s pleased to see that some of those that she’s taught still compete and are involved in the sport to this day.

“I feel great. When they do taster days, I go along and get in the water.

“I had one woman at Leeds once who came rushing down saying ‘this old woman shouldn’t be getting in the water’. That’s until she saw me in.

“There’s a number of people I’ve taught that are still in the sport. A young girl called Freya Taylor did her first Masters competition in Sheffield and I taught her to swim when she was just four.

“She wanted to do artistic swimming and she saw my picture on the notice board at Leeds and because she knew me she signed up and look where she is now.

“I’m mortified now though, because some of those I’ve taught now have to judge me!

“But it’s great to still see them and have them around the sport and I’m happy we’re back performing in person because I don’t like all this virtual stuff. I like an audience!”

If you’ve been inspired to take up artistic swimming you can find out more below.