Local man swims into his 90s
By Jason Gabak
When Marcel Dekleermaeker of Camillus comes into the Skaneateles YMCA and Community Center, he brings his charisma and a certain joy with him.
He greets everyone with a smile and a few words, enjoying every minute of it before he hits the pool for his thrice weekly laps.
“They are great here,” Dekleermaeker said. “They are all nice people here. The person (Dorothea Hughes, branch director) who runs everything here is wonderful. It is a great place to come.”
Recently, Dekleermaeker celebrated his 90th birthday and he did it by heading to the Y to get some time in the pool.
When he walked into the Y and signed in, he saw his grandson, Michael from Hawaii was there.
Before long Dekleermaeker’s son, Peter also arrived and they all swam some laps together.
“It was very nice, such a surprise,” Dekleermaeker said. “I had no idea. When we got done my wife and all the kids were here and we went to the French restaurant here, Joelle’s and there were about 30 of us and we all had a nice time, such a nice place.”
With his exuberant energy and charisma, Dekleermaeker seems much younger than his 90 years.
His wife, Maria and his children commented on this during a speech they shared during his birthday dinner.
In the speech his family said it seems he closer to 65 and is always active, serving to inspire his kids and grandchildren and many others whom he meets.
Born in Belgium on Jan. 25, 1927, Dekleermaeker said it is hard to believe he is 90, but to him it is just another number.
Dekleermaeker said he believes in living well and treating his body as well as possible.
This involves a proactive outlook.
“We have to be our own doctors,” Dekleermaeker said. “We have to take care of our bodies before we need to go to the doctor.”
He said this encompasses everything from his swimming to his eating habits.
“We eat little meat,” he said. “We eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I’m 90 and I still drive, I have no problems with my eyes. I don’t need glasses. I’m still flexible. I thank God for helping me do all of this. Every day we eat eight or nine different fruits and vegetables. It is important to eat the right way. No soda and these kinds of things. They say things aren’t bad for us and then years later they decide things are bad for us. You have to take good care of yourself.”
At least in part, Dekleermaeker said this comes from his upbringing in Europe, where he said eating habits and foods are different than in America.
Maria, his wife of 58 years, has a similar background, being born in the Netherlands.
The couple met in New York City when Dekleermaeker worked for the KLM airline, before settling in Camillus to raise their four children.
Dekleermaeker said for many years he swam at the Onondaga Community College pool, but after that was closed he would go swim in Syracuse, but once he discovered the Skaneateles YMCA, he found a place where he felt right at home.
“I enjoy coming here,” Dekleermaeker said. “They are all so nice here.”
When he isn’t swimming, Dekleermaeker said he stays active walking; a style he said is akin to power walking, minding his breathing and moving for at least 20 minutes at a time.
“People think they have to run,” Dekleermaeker said. “This is not good for your body, for you joints and your bones. But I walk a lot. You have to keep moving.”
But swimming is his favorite way to stay active.
“It is my way of moving,” Dekleermaeker said. “It has always worked for me.”
He encourages everyone, whether they are 18 or 80 to take their health seriously and said it is never too late to find ways to be healthier.
“This has worked for me,” Dekleermaeker said. “It can work for anyone. We have to take good care of ourselves.”