The photo at left shows John at the successful conclusion of his 35:15 Lake Ontario epic swim. The photo is copyright of the Kingston Whig Standard - credit Ian MacAlpine.
From a very young age John Munro was involved in numerous sports. He played basketball at the elementary and high school level, participated in track and field and gymnastics throughout his schooling, and played baseball, lacrosse, and football. He also swam recreationally at the YMCA in Toronto where he grew up. John was awarded the honour of athlete of the year in his grade 10 class at Runnymede Collegiate in Toronto for the 1966-1967 school year.
John continued to be active throughout his adult life in a variety of sports and fitness activities.
In the spring of 1994, at the age of 43, John was readying himself for the Ottawa marathon, his first competitive long distance run. Weeks before he was to run, he suffered a debilitating knee injury. In order to rehabilitate, he took up marathon swim training with his wife, multi long distance record holder, Vicki Keith. John became a swim pacer and training partner for Vicki. He later became a training partner and swim pacer for Carlos Costa, a double leg amputee who went on to set several world records.
John was anxious to test himself in a swim marathon, as his running was placed on the back burner. In July of 1996, at the age of 45, John Munro attempted the 52-km crossing of Lake Ontario from Niagara on the Lake to Toronto. He was within two miles of completion, when he had to abandon the swim due to a severe rotator cuff injury. After a two year healing process, John was back to swimming as a fitness activity. Vicki and John worked together and focused on re-designing John's stroke.
In August of 2001, John was ready for another marathon attempt. He and Vicki completed the first tandem swim across Lake Ontario from Point Peninsula, New York to Kingston, Ontario; a distance of 35 km. John had caught the "swimming bug" once again.
During July and August of 2003, at the age of 52, John Munro completed two swims that he aptly named the Y Knot Marathon. The first swim was the July 13th 20-km crossing of Lake Erie from Crystal Beach, Ontario to Sturgeon Point, New York in a time of 9 hours and 33 minutes. One month later, on August 12th, John set out from Sackets Harbor, New York and swam the 58.4-km crossing to Confederation Basin in Kingston, Ontario in a time of 35 hours and 15 minutes. In the process, John completed the longest single crossing of Lake Ontario, became the first person to complete a solo swim at the east end of Lake Ontario, and became the oldest amateur to successfully cross the lake.
Like all of Vicki's marathon swims, John's Y Knot Marathon was a charitable fund raising event. The main purpose of the swims was to raise funds to help John and Vicki continue to develop sport and recreational opportunities for young people with physical disabilities at the Kingston Family YMCA. Thanks to the tremendous generosity of people in the Greater Kingston area and across Ontario, to date, John's Y Knot Marathon has raised an amazing $72,000, with funds still being donated.
A wonderful 20-minute YouTube video was released in 2014 and forms a tribute to John's swim, along with inspirational interviews with the children involved in, and motivated by, John and Vicki Keith's Y Knot programme.
After a challenging year with the final stages of a rapidly declining, major neurodegenerative dementia, John passed away in December 2020. Apart from the formal obituary, the brief summary of John's background, contributions and respect-by-and-for others is beautifully summarized by the words of his wife, Vicki Keith, and is reproduced below:
A beautiful sole has left this earth.
John was a father of two grown sons; Bruce and Cory. He loved them more than anything and was so proud of the people they had become. Even as John struggled with his illness, he would smile when he heard they were coming for a visit and say simply "My boys". John's gift of music, accents, voices and laughter continues to live in Cory, while his passion for family and his ability to think of others before himself lives on in Bruce. His caring nature lives on in both of his boys.
He was a much loved and devoted husband who would go to the ends of the earth for me. His hand resting on the back of my neck would say "I support you", his hand in mine said "I love you" and his hug could heal any hurt and make me feel safe and secure in an instant. His quick wit filled a room with joy, his ever-present support was empowering and his loving way all encompassing.
During his career, John worked as a police officer. People who knew him, spoke of him as being "a credit to the force" and "what a man should be". One fellow officer said that John "was quiet but expressed his thoughts, serious in his duties but could make you laugh at any time". This officer went on to say that he remembered John even though he didn't know him well, because John had "inspired him to be a better man".
After retiring from the Toronto Police Service, John went on to become a volunteer firefighter on Amherst Island, a position of which he was very proud. He loved being a police officer, but I think a little hole in John's heart was filled by being able to give back to his community in this very important manner.
Friends describe John as a remarkable man. They of course speak of his musicality, his athleticism, his sense of humour and his mentorship. Many commented on his strong moral fiber, his authenticity and his empowering nature, while others spoke of his passion, his voice of reason, his kindness, his interest in others and his ability not just to tell a story, but to draw a story out of someone else. One friend described John as a "gentle and caring man who set an example for us all".
John's philanthropy is celebrated by people who speak of his passionate support of the Y and Y Penguins, and commented on how many people have benefitted from his hard work both behind the scenes and publicly.
One of the most incredible things about John was his passion for helping others. The joy John took in supporting athletes on the Y Penguins, transporting, starting, (head-) tapping etc. was always evident. Ever working to make a positive impact in our world, John organized countless regional and provincial games for young people with physical disabilities, helped start up the 100 Men Who Care Kingston Chapter and built and supported many other charities and events throughout his years.
The messages that meant the most to me over the last months are comments on how John always had a smile on his face when he was around me and that he held a fierce pride in me and my achievements. I could always feel his eyes on me in a crowd and sense his quiet support. It always made me feel like we were an indomitable force who could achieve anything together.
John and I were the perfect team in sport and in life. We are both strong personalities but we understood and respected each-other's strengths and weaknesses completely. John's logic complimented my intuitiveness, his rule adherence balanced my free spirit, his calmness contrasted my spirited excitement. This, tied with our combined passion, desire, fortitude and dedication made us an undeniable and impenetrable team. I will miss him immensely, but be ever the stronger and better person for knowing and loving him.
I think back to the day when John completed his 58 km crossing of Lake Ontario. The memory of the crowds of people standing along the shore waiting for his arrival, and tour boats filled with people cheering and waving and encouraging him to press on, in some way gives me the greatest comfort. It demonstrates how everyone felt about John and it is the recognition and acknowledgement that he deserved for his quiet life of servitude and caring.
You will be missed by everyone who knew you "my Johnny", and will live on in the hearts of all of us who had the opportunity to share in a bit of your journey.
Data provided by Vicki Keith.
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Created: 3rd November 2003
Last Updated: 6th January 2021