LAKE ONTARIO, Canada. June 4. BACK in August 1978, John Kinsella left Niagara-on-the-Lake, west of Niagara Falls, on an overnight swim to Toronto across Lake Ontario during the $50,000 Pepsi Challenge Marathon Swim.
From the United States to Canada through a stormy Lake Ontario, the 31.55-mile (50.7 km) pro race was not an easy one.
13 hours 49 minutes later after downpours of rain and hours of wind-whipped whitecaps that treated the swimmers like socks in a dryer, he finished 72 minutes ahead of second-place Claudio Plit of Argentina, Kinsella to prove the pundants right. “[Coaches Don Watson and Doc Counsilman] gave me a real background in physical conditioning so I'm able to take the brutality of the swim and push it on and on. I think the real key to being successful in marathon swimming is mental discipline, the ability to be convinced you're going to finish when you go in. Getting in the boat is not an option,” recalled the double Olympic medalist.
Besides the tough workouts, Kinsella had a menu that may be looked upon strangely in this era of precise formulations, gel packs and scientific hydration fluids. He left in the dark after shoving down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the start and was sustained with feedings of Nutrament with a raw egg followed by Gatorade and glucose.
But in the dark, he couldn't see what he was eating anyway. Coach Don Watson recalled, “When John swam across Lake Ontario, it was basically an overnight swim. I was in a Zodiac boat with Kathy who he later married. I guiding him with a strong high beam searchlight. I would shine it in front of him. It was difficult hours on end until the sun came up.
It was a frightening experience going through the extreme winds and heavy rains that hit the race several hour prior to the finish. [The winds] blew him way off course. For about 10 minutes we lost sight of Kinsella. We were lucky to have a bull horn to contact him with our location and have him swim back to the boat. I wanted him to exit the race for his safety, which he would not do. I threw him a rope which he would not take hold of as it would have disqualified him. He said he had gone too far to quit regardless of the danger.
Besides Kinsella's survival that night on Lake Ontario, Plit (15:01), Raul Villagomez of Mexico (15:09), Magdy Mandour of Egypt (15:19) and Bill Heiss of USA (15:57) also finished in the storm's aftermath, a historic, difficult swim that surely lived up to its name.
Courtesy of Open Water Source