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Monday, May 4, 2015

Lake Ontario Still Calls Natalie Lambert

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Back in 2007, young Canadian swimmer Natalie Lambert wanted to become the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario along the traditional course established by Marilyn Bell in 1954.

The 31.6-mile crossing starts in the south at Niagara-on-the-Lake and finishes approximately 51 km away in a northwest direction at the wall along Aquatic Drive on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto.

Her coach Vicki Keith recalls Lambert's summer of 2007.

"We had planned to complete her Lake Ontario swim in July just before her 14th birthday. In April, the 14-year-old age limit was instilled by Solo Swims of Ontario so we changed the swim date to August 8th."

The young girl was ready physically and mentally. But Mother Nature had other plans. "She battled headwinds and waves up to 3 feet for the first half of the swim. At that point, the winds changed to east/south-east and increased in speed, averaging 16-17 knots, with gusts up to 21 knots. The swells grew and remained for the remainder of swim. Natalie became seasick and began vomiting. Because of her age and the risk of developing an electrolyte imbalance she aborted the swim after completing 25½ miles in 20 hours 18 minutes."

Because the swimming season is short on Lake Ontario and Lambert really did not want to let go of her goals, she changed course. Literally. "We adjusted the course. 20 days later she climbed into the east end of Lake Ontario and swam a 35-mile course in 23 hours 15 minutes from Sackets Harbor in New York to Confederation Park, Kingston, Ontario, Canada," remembers Keith.

But another year passed and the age record for the west end of Lake Ontario (traditional crossing) was still available. Lambert wanted to return and achieve her goal. As a trial swim, she swam 11.9 miles butterfly across Lake Erie in 7 hours 47 minutes from Crystal Beach in Ontario to Sturgeon Point in New York. She was ready as her swim set three records. She was the first person to swim across Lake Erie doing butterfly, the youngest to cross Lake Erie, and did the fastest north-to-south crossing of Lake Erie.

A short 16 days later, Lambert was back in Lake Ontario. Keith describes her third attempt, "With warm reasonably calm conditions, the swim progressed well, but a number of electric storms started to develop around the lake. The storms persisted as Natalie approached the Toronto shoreline. The storms moved over the lake. Lightning began to strike within a very close proximity to Natalie and her crew, causing the swim to be terminated for safety reasons. Natalie was still swimming well at that point and had completed 26 miles of the course in 14 hours 57 minutes."

But she was not about to give up her goal. A month later, Lambert returned for one more attempt. She wanted the age record for the traditional crossing of Lake Ontario. "The day before the swim she was feeling unwell," says Keith. "But because the window for lake swimming was coming to a close, she decided to try anyway. She woke up the next morning quite ill. She was shivering with fever and her throat was sore and swollen. She decided to make an attempt anyway because she didn’t want to second guess at a later date whether she could have achieved the crossing. 16 km into the swim and feeling worse with her sore throat and chills, Natalie climbed from the water."

Five attempts, one success later, Lake Ontario still calls. Now in her 20s, Lambert hopes to one day get back into the lake and complete the traditional crossing, perhaps sometime after she finishes medical school.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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