It’s been awhile since I have posted. Probably too long. Work and life gets in the way, but as a new season starts, I feel compelled to share my experiences in regards to a swim across Lake Erie this past August. The Lake Erie swim, I must admit, was an emotional journey for me, filled with some incredible highs and also lows.
How it all started
The Lake Erie swim started off with some small talk between Terri Corso and myself over the years. I had said that Lake Erie was in my sights and would like to swim it at some point. On occasion, my successful Lake Ontario swim would be brought up and stirred up memories of my younger years swimming in marathon swims.
The opportunity of a lifetime.. or should I say, lifeline?
The swimming across Lake Erie idea seemed to gain a bit of traction when an opportunity came up with the chance of being part of a Global Swim Series swim that would enable me to swim Lake Erie with the support of a swim that monitored things like safety, organizing the swim aspects, etc. Officially called a race, the “Embrace the Challenge” Lake Erie swim was, at the time, my ticket to swim across another great Lake.
I heard about the “race” through Anita Doppenberg, whom I got to know through Facebook’s swimming groups. Just a few months before, I wrote a blog post about her about her successful Lake Erie swim, as a solo swim and through conversation, she advised me of the upcoming Embrace the Challenge swim. After a couple of months of convincing my wife of this event and opportunity, she finally agreed. Convincing her was not easy.
In April, I decided to increase my already crazy swimming schedule and adding in more distance swimming. At the time, believe it or not, I was not any swimming shape to swim any long distances. I forced myself to keep swimming freestyle when all I wanted to do is to get out of the pool.
May came around really quickly. In order to get used to what I thought would be cold water, I swam in a Lake in cottage country up in the Bruce Peninsula. There was no one else in the water, and the water was really freaking cold! But I managed to swim for an hour when I was up there on weekends. Before too long, I found myself being able to swim for longer periods of time without wanting to get out of the water. The cold water training worked very well for me.
My idea..and my reluctance
Here’s what my idea was at the time.. I wanted to raise money for a charity so that I could do some good. That charity ended up being the one that belonged to my employer. A director at my employer found my story posted on linked in, and loved the story so much, he went on to talk to the company president. Soon enough, we had a meeting with the president, as well as the employer’s fund raising team, and came up with a plan to hold a rally in my honour.
But soon after I agreed to participate in the rally, I increasingly felt really uncomfortable with being in the spot light. Although my efforts were quite noble, I didn’t want to be seen as a swimmer, but rather a competent professional in my field of work. Perhaps this was my fault, but I gradually shot down their ideas in terms of publicity because I felt it was not the route I wanted to take. In the end, my efforts raised over $5,000 and I’m really proud of the fact I was able to do some good. Feel good about improving the lives of others!!
My coach and mentor
I have nothing but kind words for my coach, Marianna Koljubakin. She had nothing to gain my helping me out, and spent time with me and answered my questions and concerns. I may be a veteran marathon swimmer, but I don’t know everything there is to know. Marianna helped me out with nutrition, training, and chats about approaches to training sessions. I am grateful for her help!
Words of Encouragement.. and making me stick to the rules
One of the people along my journey was Josh Reid, who I think is truly amazing and glad we crossed paths. Josh and I had conversations throughout the months leading up to the Lake Erie swim. I must have drive him crazy with all my messages to him. Yet, he never complained. When I didn’t qualify at the North Shore Challenge swim, he helped me find an alternative swim were I could swim and qualify.
The North Shore Challenge
In July, I decided to swim in Josh’s event, the North Shore challenge. As per the paragraph above, I didn’t qualify. The waves were very high, and frankly, even though I was able to finish the 10 km swim, I did not get into any swimming groove that allowed me to swim fast. The qualifying time to swim 10 kms was 4 hours. I ended up swimming the North Shore Challenge in just over 6 hours. Disappointing!!
Spoke to Josh about not qualifying, but he said rules are rules, and if I wanted to swim, I had to qualify. So I scrambled and found an event to swim at that would allow me a fighting chance to swim and make the cut off time.
The Caledon Quarry Swim
The Caledon Quarry swim was quite successful. Ended up being so pissed off about not qualifying at the North Shore, that I swam as fast as I could, and finished the 10 km swim in 3 hours and 3 minutes. I was relieved that my efforts finally paid off. Two 10km swims was exhausting for me, but I finally qualified and felt good about it.
I have to also thank Barrie Shepley for accommodating my last minute addition to your race schedule to allow me swimming. Also a huge thank you to Chris Yuen and Anita Doppenberg, who came to race against me, and also support my efforts. Thank you so much!
Lake Erie “ Race” Weekend – Friday
Finally, the race was in sights. I took some time off work to gear up for the event, but also to rest. On August 18th, my family went down to Fort Erie and check into our hotel. Marianna and her husband joined us for dinner that night. It was a very enjoyable evening. Earlier in the day, we were advised that the swim, originally scheduled for Saturday, was moved to Sunday due to the high winds on Lake Erie.
Lake Erie “ Race” Weekend – Saturday
Saturday came and went quickly. It was a day where we just stayed and wondered along the beach, and checked out some local sites.
Lake Erie “Race” Weekend – Sunday’s Main Event
Woke up early Sunday morning, and went with Marianna and Jorge to the start of the swim where we went across on our boats to from Crystal Beach to Sturgeon Point, New York to start the “race”. The race was delayed by about an hour as the boats struggled to get across the Lake Erie waves. We had a 22 foot Pontoon that was literally taking a pounding as we slowly boated across the lake.
Finally, at 9:04 am, the event started. I had an in water start and the other swimmers started on shore. The start seemed smooth enough, although I wondered where the other swimmers where. Was I in last place already? A thought that came to mind quickly. But soon enough, I had more positive thoughts about being really comfortable (and not cold!!) as I swam across the Lake.
I do recall the 8 feet waves that seemed to be coming from behind me and moving me forward. The boat, which I tried to keep within my sights at all times, looked like it was tossed around like a toy in a bath tub.
The swim was going very well for me. I swam 10kms in 3 hours and 30 minutes, and handled the waves well. I had no fear.
Then, the most unfortunate thing occurred – Marianna stopped me while I was swimming, and told me that I had to get out due to a swimmer being lost in the lake. Couldn’t believe my misfortune. As I got into the boat, I wondered what could have caused this and also if the swimmer was okay. We were asked to use our boat to search for the swimmer while a search and rescue boat came and searched for the swimmer. We received some mixed messages from the people on the radio… with one message stating that the swimmer was taken “unconscious” from the water, with another message quickly correcting the message with “conscious”. At that point, all the boats were asked to get into the port where the swim officially ended. I was so disappointed that I decided to skip the dinner with the other swimmers and went home. Marianna and Jorge also went home.
I should clarify, that I am happy that everyone was safe from the event, even though we did not get to finish the swim. Things happen out there in the lake, and we all have lessons learned that we must all live with. I’m not going to get into other details or lay the blame on anyone, because I think the incident was a mistake, and not done on purpose.
What’s Next for me?
I’m used to disappointments – it took me three tries to swim across Lake Ontario. And on the third attempt, the swim took me over 32 hours. I’m not a quitter. Not sure if I will swim the “race” if offered or if I will entertain a solo swim with Solo Swims of Ontario. There are many months to think about options, or if I want to swim it at all.
Despite the swim being unsuccessful, I do believe that I learn more when I fail at something, rather than when I am successful. I learned a great deal about training, fund raising, the media, and what my own strength and weaknesses are. I also learned that I have a very supporting family who supported my crazy idea to begin with. My wife Linda has had to do a lot more during the last few months of my training. She has been my rock.
In the end
In the end, I hope that I have been able to set a positive example to others. I also hope that I have been able to show my daughter, Amelia to reach for goals no matter how wild and crazy or far-fetched they are. Failing is part of the learning process.