BORDEN-CARLETON – Weather, wind and waves combined to provide excellent conditions for the Big Swim, which generated more than $136,000 for the Brigadoon Village and Cystic Fibrosis charities.
Event originator Todd McDonald deemed it “phenomenal.”
A total of 34 swimmers, mainly from the Maritimes, but also including one from Leduc, Alta., and another from Washington, D.C., plunged into the Northumberland Strait early Sunday morning and headed for P.E.I. in support of the Give to Live charitable organization.
The swim set a record for the largest group to swim the Strait at the same time.
Each swimmer had a kayaker alongside. In addition, the Summerside Yacht Club was instrumental in providing six of eight support boats for the swim. There were also two lifeguards and two paramedics on hand in case of emergencies.
Each swimmer was expected to raise a minimum of $1,000 for the event, but most exceeded that amount, one even reaching $33,000. Each also chose which charity their funds supported, which organizers indicated has worked out relatively evenly between the two
McDonald was ecstatic about the event, the volunteers and the public response, as he warmed-down from his own passage of the Strait and looked out at other swimmers reaching the shoals at the western base of the Confederation Bridge.
“There are over 125 involved,” McDonald noted, assessing that the swim is harder on the volunteers than on the swimmers. “We’re looking to put nearly 100 per cent of the funds raised to those charities.”
His enthusiasm grew out of a change of attitude he had about seven years ago when, during a crisis that was dragging him down, he encountered someone who took exactly the opposite path after losing his father to cancer.
The inspiration led him to join a four-person bike trip, dubbed the Big Ride, from Halifax to Austin, Texas, which raised $600,000.
Unfortunately, disc problems in his back took McDonald out of the bicycle saddle and his doctor suggested swimming to ease exercise. Undeterred, he formed the Big Swim event. It started three years ago with three swimmers, including McDonald, grew to nine last year and has almost quadrupled for 2013.
With help from his partner in life, Ashley Ward, he has never looked back. To date, Give to Live has raised more than $2.2 million for various charities through the two core events.
Twenty-five of this year’s participants approached Give to Live after hearing about the swim through fitness organizations or targeted advertising.
For 56-year-old Bob Grant, the oldest swimmer in the field, the 14-kilometre Northumberland Strait was the culmination of an estimated 500,000 metres of swim training.
“Awesome,” he dubbed the Big Swim, for which he raised $1,500.
“The navigation was perfect. It made a big difference,” he said of the route that took them along the east side of the bridge, between the support columns and onto the western side at P.E.I.
He completed the swim in four hours and 39 minutes.
First to land was Steuart Martens of Washington, D.C., in a time of three hours, 29 minutes, which was about 16 minutes ahead of his schedule.
The first woman to land was Sue Sirrs of Halifax in a time of five hours and four minutes. A cross-country ski enthusiast, she swims for exercise in the off season.
“Training is fun because I have some good swim buddies, and I love open water swimming. The Strait is a great resource,” she noted.
The youngest swimmer was 15-year-old Jessica Plummer of Halifax. She also became the youngest female swimmer to complete the crossing, with a time of four hours and 30 minutes.
“Today’s swim was an incredible experience that I’ll always take with me,” she says. “I was excited to do the swim as soon as I heard about it, but the record is like the cherry on top,” she confirmed.
When asked what the future holds for Give to Live, McDonald was upbeat and suggestive, paying forward the inspiration he was given.
“What do you feel like doing?”