Jaskwaan Bedard is a standout swimmer.
Not only is she fast — Bedard just won four-for-four gold at the Americas Masters Games — she does it all without a pool to train in.
“I go in the ocean a lot, but I don’t necessarily train there,” says Bedard, who tried swimming lengths between Skidegate and nearby Sgaay.yas Island when she returned to competing three years ago.
“I did it a few times, and then someone was like, ‘Hey, that’s where the humpback whales feed!’”
Growing up, Bedard swam with the Prince Rupert Rapids.
She and her friends hit the pool up to nine times a week.
They competed at youth nationals, and by the time she turned 20, Bedard had won gold in B.C.’s top 100-metre freestyle event and at two North American Indigenous Games.
“The technique that I grew up with, it’s like riding a bike,” she says.
Even so, at 36, just a year after she started to compete at the masters level, Bedard surprised herself by finishing in the top 20 at the 2014 FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal — an event that drew hundreds of elite swimmers.
“I had no idea what it was going to be like going back,” she said.
“It had been 15 years since I competed.”
Excited, and encouraged keep going, Bedard wanted to do something special to represent Haida Gwaii on the national and international stage.
So she asked her husband, artist Jaalen Edenshaw, for a design that she could use to make a Haida-style swimsuit.
They chose two sculpin fish done in Haida formline — part of Bedard’s own crest — and another design with a hummingbird.
A Vancouver company made 60 of the custom suits, and Bedard wore one to the UBC Aquatic Centre when she competed at the Americas Masters Games on Aug. 29 and 30.
Other swimmers certainly took notice of Bedard’s winning times.
In breaststroke, she swam the 50-metre in 40.65, the 100-metre in 1:29:04, and the 200-metre in 3:16:48 — her best 100-metre breaststroke time puts her in the top five in Canada for her age group.
She swam the 200-metre freestyle in 2:41:13.
But people noticed the swimsuit, too.
“They told me Team Canada should wear it,” said Bedard, laughing.
Back home in Old Massett, one swimsuit became a raffle prize at a fundraiser held by some of Bedard’s many supporters at the Haida Rose Cafe.
Nearly all the others have sold, though a few remain at the Haida Rose.
“It feels like I have Haida Gwaii behind me when I’m at these events,” she said.
“That’s another purpose of the swimsuit, just to feel that connection to home.”
One thing people on Haida Gwaii understand much better than Bedard’s swim-meet colleagues is just how challenging it is to swim here. The islands haven’t had a pool since the old CFS Masset one closed in 2008.
Bedard can train a bit in Pure Lake, especially when the Agate Man Triathlon buoys are out so she knows what distance she’s doing.
But much as she enjoys open water, to compete she needs a feel for the pool, and to practice flip-turns off a wall.
Bedard makes do with dry-land training — she runs the half-marathon at the Totem to Totem — and by using family vacations and work trips off island to squeeze a year’s worth of pool training into a few weeks.
A mother of three, Bedard also has her children take swim lessons whenever they get a chance, and says that’s the biggest reason she hopes Haida Gwaii gets another pool someday.
“Number one, they are on boats—just out getting seaweed, or fishing,” she said.
“Living on an island it’s important for everybody to have their children learn to swim.”
Bedard wonders if a resource extraction tax might help fund a pool, though she worries that could make it a political bargaining chip.
Old Massett Village Council hopes to build a pool once a new wood-fired heating system brings down its power costs.
Whatever happens, Bedard said one thing is sure — she will always make time to swim the real thing on the coast of Haida Gwaii.
“I know that was a big part of Haida training — I go at least once a month throughout the whole year, no matter what,” she said.
“It’s like a cleansing, just feeling attached to the water.”