Patricia Filteau is a recreational long distance open water swimmer and writer, living in Ottawa, Canada. She swims at Meech Lake (Quebec) when it is ice-free and takes her daily swims at Brewer Pool during the winter where she discovered a challenge that brought out her hidden competitive instincts.
Our Nation’s Capital, Ottawa, was plunged into a frigid winter in 2015. We experienced the coldest temperatures in recorded history. Although the ice was fabulous for skating on our Rideau Canal, skiers deserted the hills and trails, walkers and runners retreated to indoor tracks, even dogs balked at going outside. The trek to the gym, indoor field houses and swimming pools halted for many enthusiasts and athletes. Those who had fireplaces curled up beside them while many others remained at work longer hours, glad at the distraction from the deep freeze then scurried home to hot soup, the warmth of downy duvets and piles of blankets. I turned into a blimp, emerging by mid March out of shape with a closet full of clothes shrunk by the dryer.
Get thee to the pool resounded my inner voice. Swimming gear in hand, I strode into the lobby at Brewer Pool just in time to watch Recreational Supervisor Steve Papai pinning up a large map of the city entitled, Swim Across the Capital. I thought, ‘Aha – an incentive was all I needed as I wiggled into my too tight swimsuit.’
Ninety kilometres across the City of Ottawa would get me ready for the open water season. It was so easy to slip into winter lethargy and so much work to break free of it. I needed this challenge. As I swam through April and May, the distances increased along with the speed; while not exactly Nascar class it was enough to be allowed into the fast lane from time to time. I was on schedule to complete the distance by the end of May when I noticed an adjustment to the map. A decision was made to follow the Trans Canada highway that passes through the city putting the west to east crossing at 97 kilometres up from a mere 90 km. This involved a redoubling of efforts to meet my self imposed deadline that had already been interrupted by the vagaries of life – work, helping to organize a literary festival, volunteering at a two week music festival, the death of a friend, a celebration of life, my son’s graduation – most occurring where there were no readily available swimming pools nor ice-free lakes. Still, I pressed on, encouraged by the discovery that I was leading the small band of intrepid recreational swimmers who had taken up the challenge. I am not a competitive swimmer – or so I keep telling everyone – but seeing my number 28 in the lead on the map definitely spurred me on to reach the end ahead of the gang.
I then increased the incentive by pledging one dollar for each kilometre completed that would cover the cost of one girl and one boy to take swimming lessons via the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. Perhaps one day these inner city kids will also discover the joy of open water swimming?
The literary festival was June 6 where I committed to be on deck for the very long day not to mention the preceding organizational requirements. Escaping the final dismantling of the site, I re-entered the pool on 8 June, determined to remain there until I succeeded in putting the final 6.4km behind me. For a recreational, non-competitive open water swimmer, 256 lengths (or 123 laps) is a lot of swimming on one day in a pool.
Yet it was worth it. This morning, as I stared across Meech Lake and then headed for my 4km beach to beach swim I felt strong and restored to fitness, albeit perhaps still a bit chubby but hey, I am a sixty two year-old gal who goes the distance. Thank you Brewer Centennial Pool who offered up a simple, no-cost incentive for many swimmers to get back in shape and have fun doing it.
Perhaps this little pilot project will translate into Swim the Waterways of our Nation’s Capital in 2017 when we celebrate our 150 years of nationhood.