Masters swimming star Hanna Wassenaar shows her breaststroke style in training at WIRAC.
Masters swimming star Hanna Wassenaar shows her breaststroke style in training at WIRAC. Gerard Walsh

From POW camp to Masters pool champion

A PRISONER of war in Indonesia in the Second World War, Hanna Wassenaar was left unable to walk. She attributes swimming to turning her life around.

She has won six gold medals in the World Masters Games, but she rates that unimportant compared to the benefit of swimming to benefit her health.

The daughter of Dutch parents, Hanna was born in a POW camp in Indonesia where the wives and children lived, while her father worked in the coal mines in Japan.

At the age of four, she returned to Holland with her parents but couldn't walk due to rickets disease, caused by malnutrition.

"My father took me to the pool and I learnt to swim breaststroke to strengthen my legs," Hanna said.

She started walking at the age of eight, soon after the family migrated to New Zealand, where she swam competitively.

Nursing and family then took her focus, along with teaching children to swim.

After moving to Brisbane, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1999 and swimming once again became a permanent part of her life.

In the 10 years she has lived at Maryvale, Hanna has swum for an hour, two to three times a week at WIRAC. And she goes for a long walk each day.

"Swimming helps my muscles, walking helps the bones; my osteoporosis is not as bad as it was in 1999."

Earlier this year she won three gold medals in breaststroke, one in the medley relay and silver in freestyle at the New Zealand Masters Games. Her results were similar in the Asia Pacific Masters Games at the Gold Coast late last year.

With an emphasis on times, not medals, she was proud to say her times at age 70 this year are better than what she has swum in the past 14 years.

"It is not the medals, it is a fitness thing. We can do so much to help ourselves stay in as good physical and mental condition as we can," she said.

The competition certainly helped her work on bettering personal bests.

After competing in World Masters Games in Sydney and Melbourne, she will travel to Torino in Italy for her third world games in August.

As for her medal hopes, that pales into insignificance for a woman who credits swimming with helping her walk as a young girl and improving her quality of life after she turned 55.



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