British Columbia

North Van swim teacher hangs up goggles after 45 years of backyard lessons

In a Lynn Valley backyard, in the District of North Vancouver, Lanny Backie has been teaching swimming for over four decades. Now, she has made the difficult decision to retire.

'It's time. You just know when it's time'

Lanny Backie is retiring after 45 years as a swim instructor. She's taught roughly 10,000 young swimmers over her career. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

In a Lynn Valley backyard, in the District of North Vancouver, Lanny Backie has been teaching swimming for over four decades.

Now, she has made the difficult decision to retire. Friday marked the last day of classes.

"I think I'm going to be crying this time next year, saying, 'Why did I do this?', because I love it, I really do love it," Backie said, with tears in her eyes.

She estimates she's taught more than 10,000 children over her career. Her former students, now parents, return to her again and again, trusting she is the perfect person to get their children comfortable in the water.

Backie watches her students like a hawk while they swim lengths. She yells critiques and praise as they go. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"I came as a student of Mrs. Backie's, learning to swim," said Cheryl Wood, watching her child practise in Backie's pool. When it came time for Wood's children to learn how to swim, she said the decision was a "no brainer."

"Of course we were going to see if Mrs. Backie was still teaching, and certainly she was."

Backie prides herself for fostering a community in her backyard, similar to a recreation centre. Every class sees a crowd of parents looking on as a handful of children patiently wait their turn, anticipating the moment they are directed by Backie to swim a length of her pool or jump off her diving board.

Erik Wood Kurkdijan, 4, has only been swimming a short while, but Backie says he's made excellent progress. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"One of the mothers there," said Backie, pointing to a woman bouncing a young boy on her lap, "she's been in my backyard for 12 summers."

"She had three boys, and they all started with me when they were four."

Backie promotes good behaviour, and doesn't have much patience for shenanigans. Before her 45 years of backyard lessons, Backie taught swimming at the now-defunct Capilano Winter Club to pay her way through university.

Liam Mistal, 9, does flips off Backie's diving board 'all the time.' (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"I like swimming, it activates me," said Liam Mistel, 9, having just completed a flip off the diving board.

"Lanny is a really nice teacher and she got me really far with my skills."

Appreciation for Backie's firm but fair teaching style is echoed by her other students. 

"I just want to keep doing it [swimming] at Mrs. Backie's," said eight-year-old Mathilda Wegner. "She does so much, and at other swimming classes you don't really do much because they have bigger classes."

Mathilda Wegner, 8, says regular swim classes aren't as fun as Backie's because the classes are so large. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Despite her many accolades and the friends she's made along the way, Backie said every teacher knows when it's time to pack it in.

"It's time. You just know when it's time. And maybe it's time for my family to get some use of the pool," said Backie, laughing.

With files from The Early Edition



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