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Hamilton psychiatrist has sights set on conquering Lake Nipissing

'I’m here to help the Nipissing Trackers raise money for their program. I like to ski and it is a great idea, a great program and great staff and volunteers' Marilyn Korzekwa

Hamilton psychiatrist Marilyn Korzekwa is training for a rare feat, swim nearly 28 kilometers across Lake Nipissing, the third-largest lake entirely in Ontario.

The marathon swimmer has given herself a window between July 9-14 to complete her swim from Campbell’s Bay at the headwater of the French River, ending at Marathon Beach at the North Bay waterfront.  

See: Cross Nipissing swim planned for July by hall of fame swimmer

Among her many swimming accomplishments, the 63-year-old was the first person to complete Lake Ontario swims both south-to-north and north-to-south.

Her Canadian record for the north-to-south swim still stands today.

Korzekaw has also tackled the English Channel, finishing with a time of 16 hours and 40 minutes.  

“My longest swim was Lake Ontario which was 48 km. That took 21.5 hours. And I did a swim two years ago that was 19 hours and that was in California.”  

Her drive to push herself to the limit and take on large bodies of water hasn’t diminished over the years.

“I look at it (Lake Nipissing) and I wish it was melted so I could get in and swim across it. It is like a trail to a hiker,” said Korzekaw.

“I swam a lot of the big channels in the world and I am getting older and I would like to scale back a little bit. And all these trips around the world are hideously expensive. So, this is two hours from my cottage and all my family, and my friends can be here.”

Korzekaw expects it will take between 13.5 and 15.5 hours to complete the swim.

“Lake Nipissing is a very shallow lake. I think it averages less than 30 feet so when a little bit of wind blows, it becomes choppy right away. So, the chop is going to be the big problem. If it is in my face, it might actually slow me way down. If it is behind me, it might throw my rhythm off too which slows me down as well.”

The swim is sanctioned through Solo Swims of Ontario.

“The rules are you can’t touch anybody, you can’t touch any boats, you have to walk into the water unassisted, and walk out unassisted which sometimes is a problem if there is lots of spectators. Somebody has to keep them back until I’m fully past the waterline,” Korzekaw explained.

“I can’t wear a wetsuit. I can only wear one swim cap, and I can’t wear any time devices or music devices. It is just me and my swim cap and my goggles.”

She finds the first hour the worst.

“I’m thinking about ‘What did I get myself into? How long is this going to take?  This is going to hurt. It is such a long way.’ Then after about an hour you start to zone out and you forget all those thoughts and you’re just thinking about your stroke and the water and the boats and the weather.”

Another challenge is keeping her strength up.

“Solids don’t sit very well when you’re trying to swim so liquids are the best, and there is a lot of high protein, high calorie concoctions out there on the market.”

Korzekaw began ramping up her training in January.

“I was up to 17 km a week in January swimming in the pool and next month I think I’m up to 21 km a week in the pool. By the time mid-May comes up, I’m aiming to be out in the water and doing 25 km a week.”

With the swim taking place in July, the goal is to be at or above 27 km a week by June.

“I can’t go more than 10 km in a pool or I go bananas. I came here last summer and met Rick and Anne Taylor and went for a swim at Marathon beach. It was lovely. “

The Taylors, members of the North Bay Power and Sail Squadron, will be providing support on the water during the swim.

Boats will form a diamond shape around the swimmer, one in the front, one in the back and on either side.

“Our role is to navigate, keeping her going in a straight line. The diamond forms the perimeter of safety for her. So, we’ll be doing some special things to slow the boat down, because my boat idles more than 2 mph. I will be using sea socks and sea anchors, things like that,” said Rick.

A trial swim is planned for June.

Lake Nipissing has a lot of rocks and is very shallow, so it is kind of hard to navigate it in the dark. We’re hoping to set out maybe even before the crack of dawn and get close to the French River around dawn. If it gets dark after I’ve passed the Manitou Islands I’m good,” said Korzekaw who will be using her swim to raise money and awareness for the Nipissing Trackers downhill ski program.

She was at Laurentian Ski Hill Sunday afternoon to meet some of the many volunteers and participants.

“I’m here to help the Nipissing Trackers raise money for their program. I like to ski and it is a great idea, a great program and great staff and volunteers.”

Martial Gerolami is the coordinator of the Trackers program which offers a skiing experience to participants whether it is with regular skis or a bi-ski.

“The Trackers is a program to get people with varying disabilities, out on the ski hill for a chance to ski. A lot of the families don’t have the opportunity or the funds to be able to get them out here. So, Trackers provides that through Laurentian Ski Hill which provides us with all the rentals and ski passes at no cost,” said Gerolami.

The program has developed into an experience for the entire family.

“For every session this year we had 50 kids in the program, and that includes siblings.  

Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth (NADY) is a program partner.   

“NADY and the Nipissing Trackers are working together on this fundraiser. We have a relationship including the ski hill. This is a great program as everybody knows,” said NADY president Jim Stewart.

“But we couldn’t do it without all of the parties involved. Laurentian Ski Hill has been phenomenal for the program. NADY wouldn’t have what we have with people coming to our programs without the Trackers program. It is nice that we all work together for the same common ground.”

Thirty-two year old Mathew Vigna has been a member of the Trackers program  group since he was four or five years old.

Mathew uses a bi-ski with the help of father Dan.  

“He loves it. He has a lot of friends here. A lot of the instructors have been here for years and have worked with Mathew, so he enjoys coming out. He starts looking forward to it a few months in advance. He starts reminding me that it is time for skiing. He thoroughly enjoys it.”

To find out more about Korzekwa go to swimwithmarilyn.blogspot.com.




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