Marylee Banyard, a Nelson swimmer who after retirement became a star at the 55-plus B.C. Games, died at her home on May 3. She was 87.
Banyard was born in South Africa, grew up in Zambia and immigrated with her family to Canada in 1974. She was born with dysplasia in both hips, which hampered her walking but also encouraged her to take up swimming.
“Walking is difficult,” Banyard told the Nelson Star in 2016. “But when you get into the pool then you have total freedom. I think a lot of people who have had hip replacements would tell you that. In the water, you’re free, because you don’t have that gravity to pull you down.”
In Nelson she and her husband Colin raised four daughters while Banyard worked as a teacher. She retired in 1998 and joined a seniors swimming group, the Cocoons, which in turn led her to begin competing at the provincial level.
At the B.C. Senior Games, which later became the 55-plus B.C. Games, Banyard became a routine presence on the podium. From 2003 to 2018, Banyard won an astonishing 68 medals (27 gold, 19 silver, 22 bronze).
Part of her success was in a willingness to compete in every type of swimming event except for the breaststroke, which relies on the legs for power. Banyard’s specialty was the butterfly, and her performance inspired other local swimmers to try the discipline.
On Wednesday, two of Banyard’s medals and several of her pins were included in the Nelson Sports Collection during a ceremony at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
“You just concentrate more on the beauty of it and the way you do it,” she said of her sport. “It’s a beautiful thing to do. It’s a very graceful thing. Swimming is very graceful.”