Lake Ontario is one of the most challenging swims I have completed in my extensive swim career. I wanted to swim the Marilyn Bell route from a small beach called Niagara-on-the-Lake which is located across the Niagara River from Youngstown, New York to the finish line of Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto, Canada. It's a 32 mile swim. I expected that my swim would take between 24 and 26 hours to complete.
Marilyn Bell is a legend in the marathon swim world. She was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario in the early 1950's. I was truly humbled and honored when Marilyn called me to wish me success in my solo crossing. She is now 79 years old.
The rules of the Solo Swim of Ontario Association is similar to other swim organization....no wetsuits allowed. Only a regulation swimsuit, goggles and swim cap. No neoprene allowed. swimmer cannot be touched. Swimmer cannot touch boat or risk being disqualified.
Because it is a lake swim, many people wrongly believe that it's an easier swim. It is not an easy swim. It's a beast of a swim. During my first day in Canada, I saw the fury of Lake Ontario. It had large waves slamming the coastline in Hamilton. It looked as ferocious as any ocean storm. Weather predictions reported that Tuesday into Wednesday would be good conditions of southerly winds. My boat captain Christine Arsenault made the decision that my swim would take place Tuesday evening after 9pm. I was accompanied by my sister-in-law Jean Gallant as my crew and Solo Swim of Ontario's president Marilyn Korzekwa. Jean wrote my brother Robbie and Johnny's name on my arms as a tribute to them. My boat pilot had a 40 foot boat and two zodiac boats. She had nine crew members and an official Colleen Shields from the Solo Swims of Ontario to monitor my swim. A few hours before my swim started, I swallowed an internal core thermometer. The swim officials would monitor my core temperature during my swim (through out my swim my internal body temp never dropped significantly). As we approached Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario in the small zodiac boat, nearly 100 small flying fish flew out of the water in all directions. It was an amazing sight to see. I walked onto the beach, raised my hand to signal the start of my swim. As I walked into the water, I was immediately pleased with the water temperature of around 64 degrees. I started swimming and experienced turbulence at a small sandbar. This water pattern was caused by the mighty Niagara River merging into Lake Ontario. I was pleased to feel the current pushing me a short distance in comfortable water temperature. Suddenly, I felt a creature trying to wrap itself around my feet. It felt like a small snake about a foot length. I kicked it off and continued swimming. A few minutes later I felt a few of them trying to attached themselves to my feet. I decided to kick as hard as I could and sprinted for the next ten minutes and I never felt them again. Phew! One of the crew thought they were juvenile lampreys.
The next hour of swimming I experienced calm conditions and water temperatures ranging in the low 60's. Suddenly, I swam into a large very cold water area of about 500 yards in length. Water temp felt like 50. I knew from my research of Lake Ontario that it is common to see drastic changes in water temperature with variations of 12 degrees. As I departed that frigid area, I swam into water temperature of 60 degrees and it felt great. All through my swim, I experienced patches of very cold water around 50 to 54 degrees. At the halfway mark, water temperatures dropped . I was starting to experience hypothermia. My fingers began to cramp and I develop a clinched fist called "claw hand" from cold water exposure. I alerted my crew of my condition. Jean knew the issues dealing with hypothermia. Then suddenly I swam into water that averaged 64 degrees for a few miles. My hypothermia resolved. I continued swimming stroke after stroke. As we came within 3 miles of the finish line, water temperature suddenly dropped. I started to experience hypothermia, again. Winds were starting to pick up and they were causing havoc with currents near the Port of Toronto. I had very serious concerns that I would not reach the finish line. My boat pilot attempted to guide me to several different location near the Marilyn Bell Park. The currents were extremely difficult to cross. My boat pilot assured me that I would reach the finish line but we needed to swim a few more miles to get to a better location to fight the currents. I felt like I was swimming a zig-zag pattern in the last mile. Finally we were making progress into the Marilyn Bell Park. I touched the infamous wall and was greeted by a cheering crowd of Canadians. My time was 24 hours and 28 minutes. Setting a world record for oldest person to swim solo across Lake Ontario at the age of 66 years and 209 days old. As I climbed the ladder, I was greeted by rescue personnel. It was planned before my swim that a rescue unit would assess my condition after the completion of my swim. They assessed me and I was medically cleared to leave. Yahoo!!!!
My successful swim of Lake Ontario was made possible by my boat pilot Christine Arsenault (and her crew), and my crew member Jean Gallant who never took a break in my 24 hours swim (she is absolutely amazing) Jean is an incredible crew member who gives 100% attention to every detail. And Solo Swims of Ontario president Marilyn Korzekwa who never gave up on me. She encouraged me during some very challenging moments and encouraged me to hang in there. I owe my success to her, too. I would like to thank swim official Colleen Shields for her encouragement and support. She holds the record for the oldest Canadian to swim Lake Ontario.
I want to thank my stay at home crew: my husband Jim, children Sarah and Tom, and grandchildren for their unending love and support.
I plan to continue with marathon swimming because I love it. I'm in the planning stages of my next few swims. As soon as I receive confirmation, I will post my next swim adventure. Thank you for your interest in my swims.