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Marathon swimmer to take on Lake Nipissing Wednesday

'I estimate it will take between 14 and 15 hours, which means I will be finishing in the dark, but that’s not unusual for me'

Weather permitting, marathon swimmer Marilyn Korzekwa will swim across Lake Nipissing starting very early on Wednesday morning. 

Hamilton-based psychiatrist Marilyn Korzekwa has challenged herself to become just the second person to swim that stretch of Lake Nipissing. 

See: Marathon fundraising swim going on between September 1 to 5

Korzekwa and her team will be leaving from the government dock around 5 a.m. with hopes of making it to her starting point in Campbell's Bay for a 6:30 a.m start.  

The distance from Campbell’s Bay at the headwaters of the French River to Marathon Beach at the North Bay waterfront is 28 kilometers.

She has given herself a window between September 1 to 5 hoping for one good day to complete the swim.

Organizers decided to push the start to Wednesday due to Monday's uncertain forecast which included the threat of thunderstorms. 

The swim is a straight run if the weather cooperates, going between the Manitou Islands at just the right spot.

There is always concern over the potential for stormy weather but even on a clear day, winds could pose a problem.

“Maybe two of those days within that window are going to be beautiful days but one of them might have a strong wind. So, you pick a day that doesn’t have the wind. That’s why we’ve got the window there,” said Anne Taylor, one of many volunteers working behind the scenes.

“If the waves get too bad, or the wind is blowing from the wrong side, we may have an issue because that is harder for her for swimming if she is battling the waves.”

She says strong tailwinds can also cause problems.

“Then it is pushing her and she is not getting her strokes," she said.  

"What we want to do is keep a lot of traffic away from the floatation. We’re trying to keep in a straight line instead of zig-zagging which then increases the kilometers.”

The swim was originally scheduled for July but had to be rescheduled.

The later date means completing the swim at that time of year when daylight gets shorter.  

“We can’t start in the dark because it is kind of rocky near the start, so we’re going to wait until dawn to get out there. So that is going to be a bit later. I estimate it will take between 14 and 15 hours, which means I will be finishing in the dark, but that’s not unusual for me,” explained Korzekwa who will be swimming without the benefit of a wet suit.

“The air is going to get cooler so you have to be ready for that, save a bit of energy to pick up the speed to stay warm at the end. Once we get past the Manitou’s there’s no obstructions or anything navigation wise to worry about in the dark. They know the shoreline so coming home isn’t going to be a problem for them.”

The swim is sanctioned by Solo Swims of Ontario.

If successful, it will be the second time the lake has been conquered. A previous solo swim by 23-year-old Christine Lafontaine occurred in August of 1998 to coincide with the Heritage Festival and Air show. Lafontaine was a swimmer with the North Bay Titans and Thunderbirds. The swim raised $10,000 for North Bay's planned aquatic centre.

The 2020 swim is a fundraiser for the Nipissing Trackers, a downhill ski program for special needs youth. The Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth (NADY) is one of the program sponsors.

Korzekwa was in North Bay last February to meet some of the young people and volunteers involved with the program.

She recently returned to North Bay to go over the logistics of the swim with the boat captain and volunteers.

She used the visit as an opportunity to get in the water.

“I did manage to swim for an hour and a half at Marathon Beach. I just did laps swimming parallel to the shoreline. It’s beautiful. The water is so clean and fresh. I didn’t even need a shower afterward. After Lake Ontario you have to take a shower or else, you’re itchy all day it has so many pollutants in it.”

The day of the swim Korzekwa will be surrounded by four boats forming a diamond around her for protection.

“We have a floatation that is in a diamond shape, with a lead boat and a trailing boat. Then you have zodiacs and there will be some kayaks to keep the diamond shape and keep the swimmer protected,” explained Taylor.

“If the waves get too bad, or the wind is blowing from the wrong side, we may have an issue because that is harder for her for swimming if she is battling the waves. We’ve also got logistics in place in case we have to do an emergency bailout so she can be brought to shore right away. The lead boat is fast enough to come out. 

Despite the late start of her swimming schedule due to pool closures as part of COVID-19 precautions, the marathon swimmer has kept up her training schedule.

“I did a 20-kilometer swim a few weeks ago. That was kind of the big test,” said Korzekwa

“Physically I’m great. The only thing is I lost 2 and a half months of pool training. So, I’m a little slower than I usually am because I didn’t get to spring train like I normally would. It is hard to do that in open water. In open water, you tend to go for distance and endurance. So, I’m a little slower than I was last year, that is the only difference but this is a good race to go and finish and to raise some money for a good cause.”

The swim is being sanctioned by Solo Swims of Ontario which means everything must be done by the book to ensure she has a successful swim.

“That’s why you have a floatation, that is part of the rules, and no touching the swimmer at any time during the swim. She can’t wear a wetsuit. Remember if the water starts getting cold, she only has a bathing suit on. So, she has to be prepared for that by putting stuff on her skin like special cream to try and keep her warm,” explained Taylor.

“And if it is too hot, the sun will be beating on her so she has to watch her head and parts of her back and feet.”

There will be constant communication between team members on and off the boat.

In addition to the regular equipment, a computer program will transmit where the swimmer is at all times.

“It’s a big job for the volunteers because we’re trying to stay on a steady stream driving the boat for 14 hours. And you try to keep the speed below two miles an hour and that is hard to do,” said Taylor.

“The captain of each boat is going to have to have back up to get some rest, and people in kayaks and zodiacs will need some spelling off also. They all also need to be fed during the day.”

Korzekwa hopes the media in her hometown of Hamilton will pick up the story giving North Bay some added exposure.

Organizers hope in ideal conditions she will complete the swim around 8:30 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday night. 

With files from Chris Dawson