After her hero’s footsteps: American Elizabeth Fry swims across Lake Ontario

Before wading into the water in Queen’s Royal Park at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Elizabeth Fry looked on the list of names on a plaque dedicated to all the women and men who had finished a solo swim across Lake Ontario. At the peak of the list is Marilyn Bell, her friend and hero.

Fry finished the 51.7-kilometre swim on Monday, setting foot in Marilyn Bell Park at the west end of Toronto with an unofficial time of 15 hours 46 minutes. Bell, who had been the first person to make the remarkable trip across the Great Lake as a 16 year old in 1954, had tracked Fry’s progress on the internet and both talked on the phone soon after Fry reached property.

“They are legends, all of them,” said the 58-year-old Fry in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press. “I knew this was going to be a remarkably hard swim when I went in and it certainly lived up to that. It is fun and hard and cold and bumpy and all those things.”

Fry will have her time ratified by Solo Swim Ontario, the official record-keeping organization for the program. They’ll compare three unique stopwatches to verify her final time. Toronto’s Cindy Nicholas place the women’s record of 15:10 in 1974. American John Kinsella holds the men’s record at 13:49, set in 1978.

It was Bell who’d suggested in November that Fry take on the hard open-water swim. The two had met when Fry was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame’ in 2014. When Bell discovered that Fry — that had crossed the English Channel, one of other swimming achievements — was looking for a new challenge, she suggested that the younger swim follow in her wake and attempt Lake Ontario.

Fry picked the park named after Bell just west of Exhibition Place to honor her hero.

“That was my goal,” said Fry. “With all of the help and advice I got out of Marilyn and the complete Solo Swim Ontario group, that was my aim to finish right at the ladder at Marilyn Bell Park.”

Fry entered the water soon after midnight and confronted average water temperatures of 15.5 degrees Celsius. A ship with her trainers followed alongside her or before her, tracking her body temperature and heart rate with detectors. Gradually a water bottle with functionality gel or water has been thrown into her, with a rope attached to it to haul it back into the boat. To break up the monotony, cookies would be dropped to Fry as she trailed behind the ship that she would attempt to scoop into her mouth.

“I really completely space out,” said Fry about being deprived of all her senses while swimming. “My only sense of atmosphere comes from the shape of cookies. At some point I want something crunchy since you are basically on fluids the entire time. I actually just zone out and revel in my environment.”

Fry builds up to her marathon outside swims by preparing in a pool and then graduating to Long Island Sound near her home in Westport, Conn.. Finding an official time in outside swims like Lake Ontario requires competitors have very simple gear: a Speedo swimsuit, goggles and one silicone cap. Vaseline is just applied to prevent chafing, not for heat.

“You need to spend months and months or even years actually get used to it,” said Fry. “Not only getting the yardage and receiving the muscle memory but becoming acclimated to the cold and adverse conditions.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail