Last fall, a young Ontario girl named Annaleise Carr took part in a fundraising swim that raised $10,000 for a summer camp for children with cancer.
She visited Camp Trillium and was so moved that she asked to volunteer – but at 13 she was too young to help.
Instead, the toothy, diminutive girl from Norfolk County decided to raise money for the camp by becoming the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario.
As a glorious sunset faded into Sunday evening, the 14-year-old approached Marilyn Bell Park, on Lakeshore Drive in Toronto, while a crowd of supporters hooted, clapped and chanted “Annaleise! Annaleise!”
She touched the wall just before 9 p.m., then turned around and hugged her swim coach, Lisa Anderson, who accompanied on a Zodiac boat.
While dozens cheers and applauded, she climbed up the pier, was wrapped in a towel and hugged by her family, still wet, flushed and wearing her swim cap and goggles.
A few minutes later, she sat on a lawn chair and was checked by Mark Ghesquiere, a doctor who had followed her by boat with a support team.
She waved wearily and said “Okay” when asked how she felt. She was then taken to hospital for a more thorough checkup. Her support team said she was exhausted but otherwise fine.
It had taken her nearly 27 hours fighting high waves, cold current and leg cramps.
“It’s quite an ordeal. … She had a strong spirit,” Dr. Ghesquiere said.
Her parents, Jeff and Debbie Carr, recalled in an interview that they had first opposed her project but now smiled with pride as they described Annaleise as an earnest, altruistic youth.
Her exploit had collected more than $90,000 for Camp Trillium, a fundraising drive that will continue until Labour Day, shortly before she starts Grade 9 in September.
In her gutsiness and guileless youth, Annaleise brought up memories of a 16-year-old Marilyn Bell who, in 1956, become the first person to swim across the lake.
Annaleise followed what is known as the traditional Marilyn Bell route, a 52.5-kilometre swim from the mouth of the Niagara River to the breakwater at the Toronto park named after her heroine.
“I wasn't there for Marilyn Bell but I was here for her,” one onlooker said as she was taken away.
Annaleise’s journey began on Labour Day of last year, when she took part in the 10-kilometre swim event that raised $10,000 for Camp Trillium. She later joined a group that brought the donations to the camp.
When she was told she had to be 18 to volunteer, Annaleise, who has been swimming since she was four, hatched the lake-crossing idea with her younger sister, Larissa. She and her support team practised for months, swimming long distances every day, rehearsing night swims accompanied by Zodiac boats and kayaks, preparing for possible health problems such as cramps or vomiting.
Before her big swim, she swallowed a thermometer pill, a device first developed by NASA to monitor body temperature on astronauts. The pill’s wireless transmission enabled Annaleise’s support team to make sure her core temperature remained stable.
After a one-day delay because of high winds, she set off on Saturday, at 6:17:10 p.m, from Queen’s Royal Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She was initially helped by the push from the Niagara River’s current but soon was slowed by wind.
The toughest part was the night between Saturday and Sunday, when conditions got worse and she was alone because, following Solo Swims of Ontario guidelines, her pace swimmers had to return to their boats.
Only a kayaker remained close by, with a light on the bow of his vessel to guide her through the dark. She also had a light on her swimming cap to remain visible.
Waves began getting higher and higher, reaching 1.5 metres. For hours, she also faced a 10-knot head wind and the water temperature cooled to 13 degrees.
Some sail boats also got too close in the dark and had to be warded off by her support boats.
A tanker also churned cold water her way.
“She never complained. It was just dogged determination,” family spokesman Ross Keegan said. The weather was better through Sunday but she began cramping in the afternoon and a physiotherapist on the boat prescribed stretching exercises.
The final part was also challenging because of the current from the outflow of the Humber River and the team had to rejig her route for the final hours of the swim. According to Solo Swims of Ontario, 56 people have successfully swum across Lake Ontario. The youngest until now was Jade Scognamillo, of Caledon, who was 15 when she did the feat in 2009.
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