Multi-gold medal-winning swimming ace Anna Kaminska was leading a quiet, contented life as a women’s swimming instructor in Bahrain when an unexpected, dramatic change occurred in her life three years ago.
Now, she’s preparing to take part in a world championship swimming event in October. All because she decided to take part in a triathlon on a whim in 2019.
“A couple of friends and I decided to take part in an Ironman triathlon competition in Bahrain, just for a lark,” Kaminska, 45, told the GDN in an exclusive interview, laughing as she remembered how she had registered for the tournament. “We thought it would be fun to compete as a team with each one of us competing in the category that was our individual strong suit.”
The trio decided that one of Kaminska’s friends would compete in the cycling event with the other taking on the running challenge. Kaminska would participate in the swimming section.
“That was fine with me,” she laughed, again. The spontaneous, infectious laugh would be a feature throughout the interview. “I can’t run! I’m just a swimmer.”
The mother-of-two, who was born in Poland and has been a Bahraini citizen since 2014, had no idea that the one-day event would change her life as she knew it.
“I was 42, then, and competing against swimmers who were much younger than me,” she explained. “There was a thought gnawing away at the back of my mind that I didn’t stand a chance. But, to my complete surprise, I finished fifth. And that was it – something special had just happened and I wanted to try and achieve something more.”
For Kaminska, who was born in a small town called Tczew, swimming had always been a part of her life from the age of five when she was enrolled in a sports school.
That facility had a reputation for producing local, district and national champions regularly, she said. So, once she was deemed strong enough to undergo the school’s strict training regimen at the age of seven, she trained hard for the next eight years.
“It was tough,” Kaminska, who is the chief of specialised sport at Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, remembered, laughing again as she reminisced about the grind she had been put through. “We had to train twice a day every day of the week. We also had to run and put in a lot of work at the gym. It was tough, but now, when I think back, it was absolutely worth it.”
Kaminska got so used to that rigorous training routine that it continued to be a part of her life as she graduated first from high school, then with a bachelor’s degree in touristic and hotel administration from a prestigious university in Gdansk, a bustling port city on Poland’s Baltic coast.
“My love affair with water and swimming resulted in so many things,” she laughed. “I became a lifeguard, an aqua swimming instructor, a baby aqua swimming instructor; I obtained a diving licence and also got a sailing licence. I learned white-water rafting. I just had to be in, or on, the water. That’s where I was, and am, happy!”
In 2003, Kaminska applied for a job with an international firm in Bahrain, was accepted and moved to the kingdom the same year. That decision would also change her life in many ways.
“I thought I’d just spend a year in Bahrain,” she said, her sentence punctuated by another laugh. “Of course, I had no idea that I would fall in love with the country.”
A few years later, Kaminska met her future, Jordanian husband, Wajed Al Muhtaseb. Soon after they got married, they had their first child, a girl, Maria, now 12. Another child – a boy, David, now 10 – was born the year after, and, in 2014, the entire family was granted Bahraini citizenship.
“Life was great,” she said. “Correction: life continues to be great. But now, a sea change has occurred – if you’ll pardon the pun!”
After her unexpected success in the Ironman event in 2019, Kaminska decided to return to training for competitive events – something she hadn’t done for years. She wanted to experience the thrill of competition again. But she didn’t know what she was going to go for. That ‘something more’ that she was looking for was still undefined.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic reared its head, forcing Kaminska literally into the sea.
“When I started training for competitions again, I really had no idea what I was looking for,” she explained. “I was still training in swimming pools. But the pandemic forced the closure of all pools. Swimming in tiny pools in friends’ homes wasn’t really going to cut it. So I decided to try the open water, to swim and train in the sea.”
The presence of so many jellyfish in the water along Bahrain’s coastline frightened her a little.
“Initially, I was a bit scared,” she admitted. “So I pushed aside the thought, got myself a wetsuit and measures to protect my ears as well as other special equipment, and that was it. I was swimming in the sea.”
In late 2021, Kaminska finally got the chance to put her intensive training to the test. She registered for two events – the Asian Cup Sprint Triathlon and National Day Swimming Champions – that were taking place on the same day, Bahrain’s National Day.
“As an all-female team, we won first place in the Asian Cup Triathlon,” Kaminska remembered. “And in the second event, I won the 50m freestyle in the Master’s category. But it was nothing for me, really. Just a short sprint – 750m. It was like a Sunday swim for me – akin to some stretching.”
Then, just three months later, in March this year, Kaminska entered the Oceanman competition in Dubai to achieve a life-changing result.
“I competed again in the Master’s category, which is for swimmers aged 40-49,” she said, laughing again. “And, I won the gold medal in the 1.5km distance in my age category, and came fourth overall. Winning in my category meant that I qualified for the Oceanman World Championship which will be held in October in Crete, Greece!”
There was more to follow for Kaminska.
Just two months later, she found herself headed to Tunisia to compete in the Tunisian Open Masters – a competition spread over five days, with swimmers facing off against each other for three days in a pool and swimming in the sea in the remaining two.
Kaminska found herself in her element, beating off the competition to end with a haul of four gold medals and one silver to show for her time in the pool and adding one more gold for good measure in the two days she competed in the sea.
“I won gold in the 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke and 400m freestyle,” she said. “And I won a silver medal in the 200m freestyle. I added another gold by winning the 1.5km event in the sea.”
Kaminska is now preparing for two major competitions that take place literally within days of each other in October.
“I will be taking part in the Oceanman at the African and Middle East Championships in Egypt in mid-October,” she explained. “I will be competing in the 1.5km event in open water again. And the following week, I will head to Crete, Greece, where I will compete in the 2km open water race in the Oceanman World Final Championship.”
Kaminska’s performance in Tunis also enabled her to qualify for the World Masters Championships that are scheduled to be held in Kyushu, Japan, in August next year, she added.
“It’s all happening now at this stage in my life,” she laughed. “And I’m training as hard as I can. I’m also basically funding my own participation in these events so it’s a bit of a toil, but the thrill of competing more than makes up for it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kaminska hopes to attract corporate sponsorship as she flies the Bahrain flag proudly in these coming international competitions.
For more details, email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Kaminska celebrates her medals haul in Tunisia
Kaminska at the Oceanman competition in Dubai last March
Kaminska with Tunisian swimmers in Tunis