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Gruelling Northumberland Strait swim completed for a worthwhile cause


Swimmers tackle strong currents, cold and exhaustion to raise funds for Brigadoon Village

BORDEN-CARLETON, P.E.I. - It’s early Sunday morning and many have yet to rise when 49 endurance swimmers wade through the cold waters of the Northumberland Strait, before plunging right in, as a crowd gawks from the shallows.

There’s only a breath of wind rippling the water as they slip from sight and shore, followed closely by support kayaks and safety boats along the Confederation Bridge from Cape Jourimain, N.B., to the wharf at the end of Beach Road in Borden-Carleton, P.E.I.

Nicole Langille, director of operations for Give to Live, the charity that hosts the annual Big Swim said Mother Nature was on their side.

“Last year we had to cancel because of the thunder storm, but this weather is probably the most ideal for the swimmers,” she chimed, while noting safety is their mantra. “They started at 7 a.m. this morning and went in three waves. And it’s around 14 and 17 kilometres, depending on the tide and current.”

Swimmers can take five to eight hours to complete the Strait.

“Give to Live was founded 11 years ago based on the premise of inspiring people to live a healthier and happier life through generosity, achievement of something extraordinary, and exercise,” explained Todd McDonald, co-founder of Give to Live.

He continued, “We aim to change people’s lives, one person at a time, and we run these events three or four times a year.”

Shawn and Wendy O’Connor travelled from New Brunswick to follow their daughter Colleen, who was being accompanied in the water by their son Brendan in his kayak.

“Colleen is a very determined young lady and her brother is a very good coach. They make a good team, and this year they have GPS trackers so we can follow each swimmer online,” announced Shawn, while gazing across the horizon in his binoculars.

“But when we drove across the bridge and saw the expanse of the water we gasped,” uttered Wendy.

In March Colleen started swimming 350 metres and worked her way up while juggling medical school.

“She’s pretty thrilled at raising money to send children to camp at Brigadoon Village, and this event has brought the whole family together,” continued Wendy. “We’re very proud of her.”

Colleen was pulled out for hypothermia but recovered quickly in the kayak and dived back in the water determined to complete the swim for the worthy cause.

Brigadoon Village provides camp programs for children living in Atlantic Canada with health conditions and other life challenges.

“Brigadoon is now the largest pediatric illness camp program in the country,” said David Graham, executive director of Brigadoon Village. “It hosts more than 725 children at our facility that we built in 2010 in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.”

The Big Swim this year raised more than $160,000, which will give 160 children the opportunity to attend one of the 14 summer programs at the camp.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” remarked Graham. “Since Brigadoon has been partnered with the Big Swim we have raised over $1 million to support children from Atlantic Canada to attend our programs.”

Curtis Edmunds, aged 33 from Calgary, was the first to sink his toes into the red sands of P.E.I.

“It’s tough, I’ll be honest. The whole time I’m thinking, ‘I can’t wait to be done’ and I have a song in my head to keep the rhythm of my strokes. I’m pleased to be first, but more than anything happy to be done because it’s very gruelling. But to help the charity I’m glad that I did it.”

Followed closely behind him was Bobby Lou Reardon, from Yarmouth, N.S.

“I’ve done five big swims and this was the third crossing and it was the most frustrating, I guess. For  about the first 45 minutes I felt great and was cruising along and when I stopped to have some food and water I got really cold and I couldn’t get warm again until three or four hours in and I had cramps.”

To learn more about Brigadoon Village visit, www.brigadoonvillage.org.

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