Solo Swims of Ontario Inc.

Hall of Fame

Greg Willoughby
(A Record and a Dream Forlorn)

Men's Record Holder
Lake Erie

After volunteering as a lifesaver and crew member of a planned Lake Ontario crossing 10-15 years previously, immigration lawyer Greg Willoughby, at age 40, was inspired to make his own attempt on Lake Ontario.

Greg's pool training had been in local London YMCAs and with the London Silver Dolphins.
His open-water work was at Port Stanley (Lake Erie), Grand Bend (Lake Huron) and Georgian Bay.
His coach was Ken Fitzpatrick, an Olympian and the Canadian team captain at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Greg's Lake Erie crossing also served as the the trial swim for his Lake Ontario challenge.

Lake Erie, 2011:

Greg swam Lake Erie from Crystal Beach (ON) to Sturgeon Point (NY) on July 15, 2011 in a time of 6 hrs 17 min 40 sec.

At age 40 years and 362 days, this swim was a RECORD for the Fastest Man's crossing on this popular Lake Erie course. At the start of the 2020 season, the record still stands.

For this Erie swim, he had a small but highly qualified team of colleagues from the London Silver Dolphins Masters swim-team who were also highly experienced in triathlons and ultra-marathon running:
* Jeff Christofferson
* Jay Myatt
* Jason Wedlake and
* Swim Master Bryan Finlay.

At the 10:12 am start, the air and water temperatures were 72-deg.F and 76-deg.F respectively and reached peaks of 82.8-deg.F and 76.4-deg.F respectively. The hot and sunny conditions were certainly a challenge to prevent sunburn for both the swimmer and crew.

Light winds were initially from the SE, subsided to zero after an hour, and freshened to produce 7-10 cm waves that benefited him from the N-NNE after about 4 hours.

Greg held a high stroke-rate throughout the swim. He started at 77-78 per minute with a pace of around 17:30 per km for the first hour. Over the next two hours, this pace eased to around 70 strokes/minute and a speed of 19 min/km. This speed dropped to around 20 min/km which he held at 70 strokes/minute for the remainder of the swim.

He certainly showed no signs of tiredness as he ran from the water at Sturgeon Point and to set the new Men's record.

Video Clip of the Erie swim. Greg with pacer Jay Myatt.

Lake Ontario, 2011:

Greg's Lake Ontario swim took place on 26-27 August 2011 and, while it was a tremendous, almost 24-hour, effort, Greg would not repeat the success of his Erie crossing !

* 30' Power Boat (Frauliner): Owner/Operator Joe Atikian and crew James
* 14' 6" Rigid Inflatable with central console: Owner/Operator Anthony & Laura Gentile
* 12'9" Quicksilver inflatable supplied by Hully Gully, London, Ontario

The Team:
* Bryan Finlay: Swim Master
* Ken Fitzpatrick: Coach
* Steven Turner: Senior Paramedic
* Greg Taylor: President of SSO and Contact/Resource Person on the Lead Boat.
* Pacers: Christine Arsenault, Jeff Christofferson, Jay Myatt, and Alan Webster

With a clear view of Toronto on the opposite side of the lake, the swim started at 7:41:20 pm from the beach at the foot of King Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The start was under good conditions with air and water temperatures of 71.4-deg.F and 73.4-deg,F respectively.

Greg encountered, and readily handled, the typical rough water at the outlet of the Niagara River as it passes over the "Sand Bar" and creates a hydraulic jump from fast to slow flow.

After about 3 hours, the wind started to freshen from the south (aiding the swimmer).

Greg fed consistently, every 30 minutes, for the first 4 hours, but this may have been too often and he encountered some vomiting challenges for the next 2 hours.

After 7 hours, the lake was relatively calm and remained that way for the remainder of the swim; however . . .

After 11 hours of swimming and with the due to rise at 6:44 am, instead a fog began to gather. This created problems for the inflatable craft (accompanying the swimmer) to see the Lead Boat. These Major problems - although worst at this stage - would affect most of the remaining 12-hours of the swim !

Greg's first "Pacer" (Safety Support swimmer), Jeff Christofferson, then entered the water and continued to accompany Greg for the next 2.5 hours. Their delayed progress, due to fog and/or currents (?) became quite clear on the GPS plot from the 9.5-hour mark.

By 13 hours, Greg was half-way to Marilyn Bell Waterfront Park (MBP), the traditional landing point, but his progress was being severely affected by the fog and problematic currents that were apparent from the unintended westerly movement seen on the GPS track.

The pacers (definitely becoming Safety Support at this stage) continued to rotate with Alan (1.75 hours), Ken (2 hours), Christine (1.5 hours), and Alan (2 hours) by which time Greg had been swimming for 20.5 hours (~4:15 pm).

At this stage he was 10.7 km from Marilyn Bell Park (MBP) and 8.0 km from Leslie Street Spit and a determination was made that he still wished to maintain his original target of MBP.

At 5:00 pm, he had been swimming for almost 21.5 hours and verbal tests of his cognitive function raised concern. No measurement of core temperature was available on this swim.

For the next 2 hours, Greg's ability to manage feeding packs became more difficult and the pacers, who were now taking one-hour stints with Greg, maintained close coverage of him.

At about 6:45 pm, a Police Launch arrived to check our flotilla. Within the next 30 minutes, it was determined that Greg was having trouble staying afloat and communicating with the pacer or crew. At 7:41 pm, after 23 hours and 32 minutes of swimming, Greg was contacted by Christine to provide support and swim him to the accompanying inflatable. He placed his arms over the boat and was rolled into the inflatable. Accompanied by his paramedic, Steven, he was transported to the police launch, rushed to shore and taken to St Michael's Hospital where he remained for 4 days to ensure his full recovery.

During the trip in the Police Launch, Steven asked a series of cognitive (Level of Consciousness) questions that Greg answered "without much difficulty"; however, tympanic temperature readings clearly indicated hypothermia at a level of about 30-deg.C. This finding was confirmed with an accurate rectal temperature of 31-deg.C that was taken in the Emergency Room at St Mike's.

These cognitive and core temperature details are included here to indicate the speed at which the core temperature can drop when the subject becomes exhausted.

So, the year 2011 provided amazing swimming experiences for Greg that he did not regret and he thanked the team for having supported him to such an extent in his determination to reach his goal of Marilyn Bell Park.

Greg hasn't swum seriously in the following years; however, nine years later (2020), Greg can proudly remember his Erie achievement (His record still stands) and his amazing 23 hours 32 minutes Lake Ontario experience.

Greg also takes pride in knowing that his efforts raised $10,500 to support Regional Mental Health Care programs at St Joseph's Hospital in London, Ontario. The adjacent image is taken from the SJHC 2011-2012 Annual Report (Last-but-one page).

For those who would like to read further details on Greg's swim, his efforts are covered in great detail by Laura Young's classic book "Solo Yet Never Alone". Laura includes far more details as well as quotes from the various crew members. As with Greg's swim, Laura's book recounts many stories of Great Lakes solo swimmers, both successful and those that were thwarted for various reasons. A great read, learning source, and reference book.

Compiled from data and images provided by Jay Myatt, Bryan Finlay and SSO Swim Master reports,
along with generous fact-checking and editing by
Laura Young.

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Created: 17th February 2020
Last Updated:
11th August 2020