So much water: Korzekwa to swim Cook Strait March 16

By Laura E. Young

Seriously, one has to wonder how many swims were left for Marilyn Korzekwa, Canada’s leading marathon swimmer and an Ontario masters swimmer, currently unattached.

Her swim resume is as long as the kilometers she has completed in fresh and salt water around the globe. The Hamilton-based psychiatrist has completed the rare south-north and north-south crossings of Lake Ontario (1983, 1984), and the first Canadian holding the triple crown of marathon swimming: the English Channel (2011), the Catalina Channel (2013), and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (2014). In 2015, she became the first person to complete a three-province swim of the Northumberland Strait.

Apparently, there’s plenty of water left and so on March 16, Korzekwa, 58, will set out to be the first Canadian and the oldest female to swim the Cook Strait that connects New Zealand’s two main islands.

Only 94 crossings have been successful, representing 84 people and 11 nations, according to the Cook Strait Swim website.

She and her coach Colleen Shields recently answered more questions about her swim Colleen Shields is a member of Etobicoke Masters and currently holds the record as the oldest swimmer to cross Lake Ontario (2014).

She will serve as coach and pacer on Korzekwa‘s Cook crossing. In fact it was Shields’ failed 2010 attempt that inspired Korzekwa to restart her marathon swimming career, which lay dormant since 1984.

Korzekwa swims to raise $10,000 for the Sasha Bear Foundation. The charity honours swimmer Sasha Menu Corey who died by suicide at age 20.

Marilyn, why this swim?

“I like to have an emotional connection with my swims an d I fell in love with New Zealand when we visited in 2011. I am a proud Canadian and being the first Canadian on a swim is very special to me.

What is unique about this swim compared to all the others you have done?

This swim is tougher than the English Channel (EC). The evidence is that no one has succeeded in doing a triple crossing despite the distance being slightly shorter. Four people have done a triple of the EC.

The tidal currents are stronger than EC and there are whirlpool eddies. The tides can be quite unpredictable. One swimmer was pushed south by one tide for about four hours. Then the tide that was supposed to push him back vanished and he had to struggle for eight hours to get to land.

There is also a 10 per cent likelihood of shark sightings.

As this is March, it’s the end of the southern hemisphere’s summer. This has meant that I have had to do all my long swims in the pool instead of the lake. The swim scheduling alone has been a nightmare, not to mention what the flip turns have done to my body.

What are you thinking when you swim?

Sometimes the first hour or two are the toughest with my brain working overtime with thoughts of “what have I got myself into.”

Actually, the night time in cold water is very tough for me. I generally love the night, but when the water and air are both cold, I start to seriously worry whether hypothermia will get me before I get to the end.

Colleen, what will you do on this trip?

I will be in charge of body core temperature monitoring, pacing, coaching and stroke correction, and monitoring her feedings.  If any tough decisions need to be made – her husband will make the call.

Once we are in New Zealand, I will be training with her every day, learning her stroke and speed so I can optimize my pacing for her when it counts

What is the main support she will need?

“Of course I will be there for emotional support.  I am approaching this as Marilyn becoming completely comfortable with me in and out of the water so she can concentrate only on her swim.  Her husband and I will do the rest.”

How does it feel to have inspired her?

“I’m honoured that she mentions me as inspiration back into open water swimming.  She really took the bull by the horns and went all in for some major bodies of water.  I am so proud of her and awed by her determination.”

And, Marilyn, what is left to do?

There is always another swim to dream about. However, my joints are all complaining, so I may only do one or two more big swims after this. Then it is back to Masters meets.

Why tie in your swimming with charity?

The publicity from doing a big event like this is a wonderful opportunity to raise money. Sashbear was inspired by a 20-year-old Etobicoke swimmer who died by suicide from Borderline Personality Disorder. As a psychiatrist, I have treated many people with this disorder and have struggled with them with their suicidal thoughts.

Donations to Sashbear go to funding training in effective treatments that help the sufferer and their family prevent this tragic outcome.”


Laura E. Young is a Sudbury-based masters swimmer and the author of Solo Yet Never Alone Swimming the Great Lakes, which chronicles the successful and incomplete crossings of the Great Lakes, including Korzekwa and Shields’ swims. Twitter @LauraEYoung2


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