Meraw with her Women of Distinction award in 2012.

Meraw with her Women of Distinction award in 2012.

Maple Ridge woman of distinction passes away

Ann Meraw, marathon swimmer who started Water Babies program, had just turned 100.

Ann Meraw, a woman of distinction for her work in the water, and the community, has passed away, at age 100.

Barbara Annabelle Meraw was born Feb. 23, 1917 in Powell River. She passed away on March 15, said her said her grandson, Mike Meraw.

“Free of the shackles that most recently held her back, Ann is now onward and upward crossing into a new frontier,” he wrote for her obituary.

“Perhaps another watery world awaits her, where she can once again be free to swim to the depths of her imagination, all the while seizing opportunities to make life better for those around her.”

Meraw (nee Mundigel) in most recent years was a familiar figure in downtown Maple Ridge, often seen walking the streets, later with a walker after being hit by a vehicle and injuring her hip, as a volunteer with the RCMP’s Block Watch program.

She was also the founder of the Ridge Meadows Hall of Fame, not to mention the founder of the national Water Babies program, and Canada’s first female lifeguard, as well as a record-setting marathon swimmer.

Meraw was presented with a Woman of Distinction Award for Health, Wellness and Active Living from the Metro Vancouver branch of the YMCA in 2012.

In 2008, Meraw earned the Order of B.C. in recognition of her accomplishments as a distance swimmer, lifeguard and swim coach.

In 1985, she was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, as a builder.

Meraw first rose to prominence as a long-distance swimmer. She swam 16.1 kilometres across Howe Sound and back in 1927, then across Burrard Inlet at age 13, from Vancouver to Bowen Island.

She then swam 83 km in 16 hours and 14 minutes, non-stop, using a six-beat crawl at sixty strokes per minute, on Okanagan Lake.

In 1958, she swam 142 km in the same lake, from Kelowna to Penticton, in 32 hours, 12 minutes, a feat that has never been matched, according to the hall of fame.

Meraw held seven world records in marathon swimming, four of which still stand.

Her vision, said her grandson, was to swim as far as her eyes could see.

“For her, it was about being the best that she could be, to push limits, in some cases ones that no human has ever duplicated.”

Meraw became Canada’s first female registered lifeguard in 1943, and the only woman coach ever in the World Professional Federation of Swimming.

She inaugurated the Water Babies program, the first of its kind in Canada.

Her grandson said Meraw, in 1934, along with three other women, started what would to become known as synchronized swimming, all the aim of creating entertainment.

In 1939, she did a life-saving performance for King George the Sixth and the Queen Mother.

She was also a technical director on the Canadian TV series the Beachcombers, and served as the double for actress Juliet Randall in the show’s swim scenes.

Meraw earned her living as a lifeguard, swimming coach, instructor and examiner, retiring after 45 years in Vancouver.

Over the years, she saved 63 people from drowning, seven as a lifeguard and the rest during her many thousands of hours of swimming, according to her grandson.

She was a member of the Royal Lifesaving Society for 78 years.

Meraw became the founding member of the Ridge Meadows Hall, setting it up in a corner of the old Maple Ridge library.

She was also a president of her strata council, a Block Watch captain and a community policing volunteer, among many other community activities.

In 1982, she lost her husband Joe, a retired firefighter and with whom she trained competitive hunting dogs.

“For those of us she left behind, we will join you soon enough,” her grandson said. “But we will not be in a hurry, making the most of this life, much as you did during your 100 years. No tears will pass, only smiles, deep inner reflection, and marvel at the humanity that you brought to the fore.”

A funeral service will be held for Meraw on Friday, March 24, at St. Luc’s Church in Maple Ridge.

Meraw will be buried in Maple Ridge Cemetery, next to her late husband.