Marilyn Bell Swim Classic

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Marilyn Bell, the first person to successfully complete a crossing of Lake Ontario
The Marilyn Bell Swim Classic is a competitive swimming meet first held in 2009 and organized by the Lakeshore Swimming Club in Toronto and sanctioned by Swim Ontario, whose namesake is Marilyn Bell.

Marilyn Bell

Marilyn Bell Di Lascio (born 19 October 1937) is a retired marathon swimmer from Toronto, Ontario. She was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario who later swam the English Channel and Strait of Juan de Fuca. She is also inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honour Swimmer and is the namesake of the Marilyn Bell Park and the ferry Marilyn Bell 1.

Lake Ontario

On 8 September 1954, Bell started her swim across Lake Ontario from Youngstown, New York to Toronto at virtually the same time as world famous United States marathon swimmer, Florence Chadwick. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto had offered Chadwick $10,000 to swim the lake as a publicity effort for the annual exhibition. Bell, who felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers, took on the challenge without pay. After several hours, Chadwick was forced to give up with stomach pains and vomiting, while 16-year-old Bell completed the swim, the first person ever to swim the thirty-two-mile (52 km) distance when she arrived in Toronto the next day. A third swimmer, Torontonian Winnie Roach, also attempted the swim at this time, but failed.

Bell swam for 20 hours 59 minutes under gruelling conditions before she finally reached a breakwater near the Boulevard Club, west of the CNE grounds. The planned route straight across the lake was 51.5 km (32 miles), but she actually had to swim much further because of strong winds and the lack of modern navigation equipment. Waves that day were almost 5 m high, (up to 15 feet), water temperature was 21°C (65°F) and lamprey eels were attacking her legs and arms.

Bell kept up her strength with Pablum, corn syrup, and lemon juice with water, along with heroic encouragement from her boat crew and her coach, Gus Ryder. Radio stations broadcast hourly reports of her progress and rival newspapers published “extra” editions throughout the day. When she finally arrived at about 8:15 p.m., a crowd of 300,000 people gave her an emotional welcome at the Sunnyside, Toronto waterfront.

The CNE decided to give Bell the $10,000 prize, and she was later given numerous gifts, including a car, television, clothing and furniture.

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