Last month, Masters Swimming Canada (MSC) celebrated the 10th birthday of its Million Metre Challenge programme. The ‘Million Metre Challenge’ was originally conceived in the 1970s by the Australian Union of Senior Swimming (AUSSI). Inspired by the challenge MSC created its own in 2005; a programme that today proudly boasts thousands of swimmers. World Masters Games 2017 talks to the first participant to record 1 million metres, and the man behind this popular initiative, Chris Smith.

Chris has swum all his life. Having spent his childhood in Bermuda, he was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean before he was walking on beaches, “my mother couldn’t get me out of the water most of the time” he laughs. Chris attended high school in Canada and enrolled himself with the swim team. Chris’ passion for swimming remained strong throughout military college, he was made coach and captain of Royal Roads Military College in Victoria and the West Coast’s Navy swim teams in 1953. Chris continued to clock the miles, eventually becoming involved with MSC in the late 80s and, with a little help, added to his own legacy by establishing the Million Metre Challenge in Canada.

The Million Metre Challenge has encouraged many masters swimmers to take to the water more frequently than they normally would, and increased the number of people experiencing the health benefits of swimming; something Chris has recently realised to be true. After living through a heart attack and open heart surgery in November last year, Chris puts his rapid recovery down to masters swimming and programmes like the Million Metre Challenge, “if you want to stay healthy, exercise is one of the things you have to do”, he says.

The first Million Metre Challenge in Australia was a far cry from the ease at which MSC members can participate today. “At the end of each month members of the programme would log their metres in the pool and then post them by mail to the AUSSI Head Office in Melbourne”, Chris explains, “and from there the organisation would update the programme every six months”. The idea was good, but Chris knew the execution could certainly be improved.

Enter Lindsay Patten, a masters swimmer skilled in IT, who joined the MSC board in 2004. With Lindsay’s skills Chris developed the Million Metre Challenge for MSC. Fundamentally, the programme was made accessible to all with a click of the mouse. To add extra incentive, Chris incorporated a club competition element allowing clubs to log their collective metres swum, in a bid to hold the record. The programme has proved very popular. Participation has grown from just 107 members and 21 clubs in the first month, to more than 100 clubs and over 1000 active members today. “And there’s room for more!” encourages Chris.

Whilst technology was instrumental in the creation of MSC’s Challenge, Chris wants emphasis to remain on the personal connection masters athletes have with each other and their organisation.  “Masters swimming is a very social sport” he explains, “a lot of it is about having fun, spending time with friends and socialising.” The connection MSC has with its members is evident on the Million Metre Challenge webpage where all the participants are listed with their photograph. “They are the face of Masters Swimming Canada” says Chris.

For Chris, the World Masters Games offers another opportunity to enjoy masters swimming both socially and competitively. “Swimming is a great fit for the World Masters Games” says Chris.  Despite the friendly atmosphere of the event, the hunger for victory still exists within masters swimmers, “we actually look forward to moving up an age group, we always want to be older”, Chris cheerfully explains, “when you move up an age group, you are usually the youngest and therefore the fastest!”. A word of warning to his competition perhaps? Chris Smith is due to move up an age group for the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland – do you have what it takes to beat the original Million Metre Man?