For the 11th consecutive year I will be down at the beach by the Navy Street Pier at 8:00 am on the first Saturday in June to go for a swim (and every Saturday after, until September or so). The big difference now is how many more people will be there with me compared to 11 years ago.
As I’ve been sitting here typing this story, I’ve seen 6 email notifications that people have joined. Amazing. So I went in and counted how many have joined so far this year… 71. I don’t know if you think that is a lot or not very many, but it seems like a lot to me. I mean it is a lot considering where this started.
This started with me swimming in Lake Ontario, training to swim the English Channel in 2006. Back then nobody swam in Lake Ontario. And I do mean NOBODY. I had never seen anyone swimming in Lake O (and I live by the Lake), I had never met anyone who had swum in the Lake, hell, I had never even heard of anyone who swam in Lake O other than back in the “old days”.
People told me “you can’t swim in Lake Ontario, it’s too polluted”. Or “you’ll come out come out with 3 eyes or green skin”. Seriously. People said that. I don’t think they actually meant that I would come out with 3 eyes or green skin, but they did think that it was a “gross” place to swim because it was too polluted.
Obviously this wasn’t always true, people used to swim in Lake Ontario all the time. The first races at the CNE were held in 1925 and continued for decades. By the time that Marilyn Bell made the first crossing of Lake O in 1954 people had been swimming in organized races in the Lake for more than 30 years. But it fell out of fashion at some point shortly after that. And I’m sure that pollution played a role in it too. The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s weren’t the best years for environmental control. But I think things started turning around in the 80’s and were probably fine by the 90’s. There is still room for improvement today (thanks to organizations like “Lake Ontario Waterkeeper” for helping with that). Turns out it is one of the best places in the world to swim. But, like I said, by 2006 the Lake was still empty.
When LOST started in 2006 there was only 1 open water race in Ontario, and it wasn’t even in Lake Ontario. And it shut down due to lack of interest 2 years later. Open water swimming definitely was not on an upswing when LOST started.
But I didn’t know that. And I really didn’t care. I hadn’t swum in 17 years when I started swimming again in 2006. I hadn’t been in a pool since June 5, 1988 at Olympic Trials in Montreal. And like everyone else at the time, I had never really heard of open water swimming. I was so sick of swimming at that point that I really did not want to get back in a pool and swim again. The idea of training or racing, to see how much slower I had gotten, had very little appeal. Which is why I got into running over those years instead. And eventually that lead me to another sport that was just starting to become popular… triathlon. In 2003, Alex, Peter, Deanna and myself did our first triathlon… Ironman Lake Placid.
That’s when I realized that open water swimming might be fun. I liked still swimming, just not pool swimming (yes, I swim in a pool now though!). So naturally I jumped in way over my head and before I even started training again, I chose a goal… I was going to swim the English Channel.
I now had a bunch of fun-loving, beer-drinking, running and triathlon buddies that loved the idea and were there to help me train, even though we had no idea how to train someone for the English Channel. The internet was still young and we had never met anyone who had swum the English Channel or any other marathon swim for that matter. That’s where LOST Swimming started.
In the end, I swam for 12 hours and 5 minutes in cold and very rough conditions in the English Channel when my son, Dylan, and buddy, Richard, pulled me out unconscious, hypothermic and with pulmonary edema. Not a great start to my swimming come-back. But despite that failure, I had found my love for swimming again. And so I decided that the next summer I would continue to swim in Lake O. And all my running and triathlete buddies who had helped me train the previous summer decided to join me.
And here we are. 11 years later.
Last year I believe we had something like 150 members of LOST Swimming, with as many as 86 people coming out on a Saturday. Making us the largest open water swim team in North America and one of the largest in the world. There will be at least 4 open water swimming races in Lake O this summer, including the Global Swim Series – North American Championship at Woodbine Beach in Toronto. There will also be at least 15 open water races in Ontario this summer and more across Canada.
The other direct result of the growth of LOST Swimming was the creation of the Global Swim Series, that many of the same people involved in LOST (and the Toronto Island Lake Swim, Ottawa’s Bring On The Bay and the Embrace Open Water SwimFest) helped bring to life 2 summers ago was the Canadian Open Water Swim Series (COWSS), before we opened it up to the world and it became the Global Swim Series (GSS) last summer.
As of yesterday, the Global Swim Series had about 33,000 participants, in 67 races, in 18 countries including: Canada, USA, Mexico, Haiti, St Kitts & Nevis, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Ireland, Spain, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. And new for this year the GSS will even have a Global Championship Series:
- GSS – North American Championship – Toronto, Canada – Sept 4, 2016
- GSS – European Championship – Mallorca, Spain – Oct, 2016
- GSS – South American Championship – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Jan, 2017
- GSS – Pacific Championship – Sydney, Australia – Feb, 2017
- GSS – Global Championship – Cancun, Mexico – April, 2017
So I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb by saying that you are definitely catching open water swimming on an upswing. Both locally, nationally and globally. It is apparently the fastest growing participation sport in the world.
So all this is to say… I hope you join us for a nice dip in Lake O and a coffee afterwards this Saturday… where it all started… LOST Beach!
PS. yes, the rumors are true… the water is already warm!
See you on the Beach,