Conditions weren’t the best to swim to P.E.I. on Aug. 17. As she front-crawled determinedly across the Northumberland Strait, Bobby Lou Reardon remembers losing sight of her support kayaker, Lois Murray, at times in the swell.
“For the first hour I was worried about her.
“I could see the water going over her bow,” said Reardon.
She says she heard later that one kayaker capsized and received help from their swimmer.
The epic event that Reardon (a well-known Yarmouth athlete) and 49 other swimmers signed up for is an annual fundraiser for Brigadoon Village. It was established four years ago, first as a three-man personal challenge.
The swimmers left in four groupings from Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick (at the base of the bridge), starting at 6:15 a.m. and started to arrive in Borden, Prince Edward Island, around 10 a.m. This year a new record was set for the largest recorded group to complete the event.
The swim started off calmly enough but once beneath the Confederation Bridge, as warned by organizers, rough waters began.
Swimmers had to cope with the washing machine motion between the pillars and the surge continued on the other side.
“They weren’t white caps, but it was a serious swell,” said Reardon.
She says she did have a sore stomach and shoulder and that disorientation and dizziness affected her at times. There were also times when her forehead felt like it was freezing. Six swimmers were taken from the water because of hypothermia and dehydration concerns.
She ate several bananas and gu (a gel containing sugar and electrolytes) and drank close to two litres of water during the swim. She knew it was important to do so. “You burn so much energy,” she said.
She stopped several times to apply zincofax to areas that were chafing against her wetsuit.
Halfway across, she rolled over onto her back and shouted, “This is awesome!” Afterwards, her support kayaker would share that memory many times with others.
She figures she swam about 17 kilometres, accounting for currents and the tide. She finally climbed out of the water after four hours and 34 minutes. She was the eighth person to make it across and the third woman.
“I don’t think I was ever tired,” she said. “I think it’s like walking for me.”
She did notice that her mouth and lips tasted very, very salty.
“It felt like the desert,” she said.
The first swimmer to complete the swim was 31-year-old Steuart Martens from Washington, DC, who completed it in three hours and 24 minutes.
Reardon says she’s grateful to her supporters, including Beth Wood.
“She gave up her whole weekend,” said Reardon.
Organizers say this year was a fantastic success, with $300,000 raised for Brigadoon Village. The amount is double the original goal set for the 2014 event.
Reardon is also close to doubling her original goal as well, with close to $3,000 raised. It warms her heart to know the money is going towards such a good cause.
“At camp, we always said ‘You haven't lived until you've been to camp!’” she said.
Because of the swimmers’ efforts, 300 chronically ill children will be able to experience the magic of Brigadoon Village.
“It was an amazing experience for sure. I’m so glad I did it,” said Reardon.
Donators can contribute to her fundraising account until late September. Visit this link.
(Online figure does not count funds collected personally by Reardon.)
Interesting facts about The 2014 Big Swim
• Swimmers from N.S. (33), N.B. (3), P.E.I. (1), Newfoundland and Labrador (2), Ontario (5), Alberta (1), United States (3), and Australia (1)
• 25 female swimmers, 24 male swimmers
• Average age was 35
• The youngest swimmer was 14 and the oldest was 60
• Along with the swimmers there was safety support on the water including: 54 kayakers, eight lifeguards, three first responders, and five safety boats.
The Big Swim is organized by GiveToLive, a volunteer organization dedicated to ending illness and disease by inspiring people to lead healthy lives through exercise, altruism and achievement.
For more information about the event, visit the website, or Facebook Page.