Swimming Lake Ontario “because girls can”

Lake Ontario seen from the International Space Station, 7/4/11.  Photo:  NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Lake Ontario seen from the International Space Station, 7/4/11. Photo: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Earlier this week 5 women began a relay-style swim across Lake Ontario. Most swimmers who tackle that body of water favor a Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto route which measures out to 52 kilometers, or 32.3 miles. But this team is taking it the long way – from a start in Kingston to an anticipated finish sometime this weekend in Burlington, Ontario – a distance of 305K / 189.5 mi. (By the way, it helps to look at a map to see how Canada covers that whole south-west corner of Lake Ontario, which is how those swims start and end on Canadian soil while still crossing the lake.)

Of course, distance is only one factor. Weather, current and temperature are huge factors. And this water is cold. Actual numbers will vary, but this NOAA chart shows the big picture. Toronto Star reporter Amy Dempsey is following the event and she reports water temperatures may vary from 37-51 F. Coverage from mid-swim says conditions on the first days were quite difficult, which means the finish may now come sometime Sunday, a day later than initially planned.

The team consists of Colleen Sheilds, 61, Nicole Mallette, 48, Samantha Whiteside, 23, Rebekah Boscariol, 18, and Mona Sharari, 18. Read more about the swimmers and coaches at the sponsoring organization’s site “Because girls can“. Their progress can be tracked on this map.

Women are pretty good at long distance swimming – and have been for some time. Consider this Wikipedia entry on Marilyn Bell, credited as being the first known swimmer of either gender to conquer Lake Ontario, which she did in 20 hours and 59 minutes:

On September 8, 1954, Bell started her swim across Lake Ontario from Queens Beach Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario to Toronto at virtually the same time as world famous United States long-distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto had offered Chadwick $10,000 to swim the lake as a publicity effort for the annual exhibition. Bell, who felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers, took on the challenge without pay. After several hours, Chadwick was forced to give up with stomach pains and vomiting, while 16-year-old Bell completed the swim, the first person ever to swim the thirty-two-mile (52 km) distance when she arrived in Toronto the next day. A third swimmer, Torontonian Winnie Roach, also attempted the swim at this time, but failed.

Wikipedia states an emotional crowd of 300,000 (really?!!) cheered her arrival and Bell did end up receiving the $10,000 prize. CBC has an archival interview with Bell on the day after her record swim.

Meanwhile, the website Solo Swims of Ontario Inc. Hall of Fame states Bell swam from Youngstown, New York (adjacent to Niagara-on-the-Lake, but onU.S. soil) to Toronto and her time was 20 hours and 55 minutes. That site states the welcoming crowd was around 50,000. (A far more believable number, in my view!) The solo swims site has a page listing some 57 men and women who have completed various north-to-south or south-to-north swims across Lake Ontario. That site says the record was set by American John Kinsella at age 25 in 1978: 13:49.

This week’s relay event is actually a fund-raiser with a target of $300,000 in sponsorship and pledges. Money raised will further the organization’s work as “…a global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty” Organizers have pledged to spend half of funds collected in Canada. The swim began with a modest start toward that fiscal goal, but organizers hope extensive news coverage and social media efforts will bring it all together.

SATURDAY UPDATE: Plans have changed. The team now expects to end their effort in Whitby, Ontario on Saturday afternoon. Storms early in the swim slowed progress considerably and the problem after that has been cold temperatures. (The Toronto Star reports one team member was treated on Friday for symptoms of hypothermia and temperatures near Toronto are “unsafe for swimming”.)

This from a Friday post on the “Because Girls Can” Facebook page:

Light at the end of the tunnel. After 4 gruelling days of swimming in ever changing conditions we’ve decided to change our landing destination to Whitby. We’ve had an extremely challenging swim, but are glad we’ve made it as far as we have.
We invite everyone to come join us tomorrow at Hayden Shore Beach for arrival around 2:00 pm. Thanks to everyone for their support, we appreciate all the love! See you tomorrow!

No doubt donations in support of their cause are still happily accepted!

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2 Comments on “Swimming Lake Ontario “because girls can””

  1. Peter Klein says:

    If someone wants to swim across any lake, I say, go for it.
    But I will ask, “Why? What’s the point?”

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  2. Peter Klein says:

    You never beat nature. Sometimes, nature lets you live.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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