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Take that, Lake Nipissing!

‘But the nausea and the headache continued throughout the swim. It was just miserable’

It was an exhausted but satisfied Marilyn Korzekwa who made it to shore, 15 hours, 54 minutes, and 07 seconds after entering Lake Nipissing, well before sunrise Friday morning.

Korzekwa started her 28 km swim at Campbell’s Bay near the French River, without the benefit of a wetsuit.

The Hamilton physician set out to finish what she started in 2020 but was forced to call off less than two kilometres from the North Bay waterfront, due to wind speeds of up to 65 km per hour and 10-foot waves which resulted in a Zodiac boat capsizing.

This time out she was victorious. Stepping out of the water onto the beach near the large garage on Memorial Drive, a smiling Korzekwa was greeted by a small group of enthusiastic well-wishers who had gathered to cheer her on.

Fighting leg cramps, she gladly accepted a chair to sit on and catch her breath.

“I haven’t been this 'totalled' since Lake Ontario,” laughed Korzekwa when comparing this swim to her 45 km swim of Lake Ontario, south to north in 1983, and 46 km north to south swim in 1984.

This time around the conditions may have been better, but she was physically under the weather.

“The conditions were beautiful. The conditions were superb other than when I was throwing up. I really wanted to quit because I threw up twice. I threw everything up and this went on for like three hours,” shared a gutsy Korzekwa.

It turned out the swimmer was battling a migraine.

“When I was throwing up, we tried everything. We tried motion sickness pills, we tried antacid, we tried changing my feed and nothing worked. And then I remembered I had one migraine pill so we tried that and that really helped. But the nausea and the headache continued throughout the swim. It was just miserable.”

Being ill meant she wasn’t able to keep down her feedings, a mixture of carbohydrates, some with protein, and Boost. All nutrients vital to her having the strength to power through her nearly 16-hour swim.

“That’s why I got cold because I had no fuel.”

If one thing did fuel her, it was knowing she had a score to settle.

“I couldn’t quit because the conditions were so perfect.”

However, the winds picked up the longer she was in the water, which meant ending the swim at the pre-planned finish at Shabogesic Beach was out of the question.

“We had a bit of east wind by the Manitou Islands which caused some chop in my face which was annoying. But then these waves came up at the end. So we couldn’t make it to Shabogesic Beach because it was destroying my shoulders to try to fight it.”   

As she approached the final two kilometres, the same distance she was forced out of the water the first time, she had one thought,

“Yeah, we’re going to do it this time.”

Colleen Shields was the swim master representing Solo Swims of Ontario.

“I was responsible for overseeing the swim, making sure that it was a safe swim and that all the rules were followed and the crew was safe,” explained Shields.

“The weather was great until an hour ago. It got rough. We could see it building when we cleared the Manitou Islands but as we were getting closer, we knew we couldn’t get into Shabogesic Beach (Marathon Beach) so we said it would be easier for her to just come with the waves and body surf in.”

Rules do not allow Korzekwa to be touched until the Solo Swims official gives the word.

“She could not be touched until she clears the water. That is a channel rule and it seems to have carried over into all the open water swims.”

Korzekwa’s swim is officially in the record books.

“Yes, because I don’t think anyone else has done Lake Nipissing. It will go into our record books,” added Shields who helped Korzekwa with her feedings out on the lake.

The swimmer was protected by boats throughout the journey.  

“The  Zodiac and the kayak were always on either side of her, very close,” said Shields.

“And actually the power boats were very close too, one behind and one in front.”

Korzekwa is confident that now she has taken this albatross from around her neck, Lake Nipissing will be her last long-distance swim.

“ I think so, yeah. I won’t be doing any swimming for a couple weeks let me tell yeah, after those waves,” she laughed.

She was asked if there was any other body of water on her bucket list that she wanted to challenge.

“No, not at the moment,” she grinned.   

Korzekwa said she is proud to add Lake Nipissing to her impressive list of swims from all over the world.

“I am a proud Canadian. Yes, very proud.”

Leading up to the day, the marathon swimmer received an email from Marilyn Bell, who as a 16-year-old in 1954 became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario.

“And she said her dad was stationed here for three or four years, and she thinks she learned to swim at Shabogesic Beach. When she was two or three years old her dad took her there. So she  thought that was really cool that I was going to be there.”

Not only was the swimmer back to conquer the lake, but she made it a point to once again fundraise for the Nipissing Trackers, having raised $75 hundred in 2020.

Fourteen-year-old Dylan Rivenbark is part of the Nipissing Tracker program at Laurentian Ski Hill.

With binoculars in hand, he excitedly watched Korzekwa inch closer to the finish.

“The money that the swimmer raised is going to help people like me who have disabilities, to ski,” the excited teen shared.

“What I enjoy about it is that people like me get to go out and have fun just like everyone else. It is fun, and it puts a smile on kids faces. I use a bi-ski. My friend Lucas and my dad help me.”      

Donations can be made by following prompts on the NADY (Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth) Facebook page.