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Fastest, youngest Lake Erie swimmer set to battle Lake Ontario’s waves

RECORD BEATER: Jade Scognamillo of Vaughan Aquatic Club is getting ready to swim across Lake Ontario. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

RECORD BEATER: Jade Scognamillo of Vaughan Aquatic Club is getting ready to swim across Lake Ontario. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

Britannia ruled the waves of Lake Erie last summer.

This year, the Maple Leaf will fly above the waters of Lake Ontario.

On July 12, 2008, then 14-year-old Jade Scognamillo became the youngest and fastest swimmer to cross Lake Erie from Sturgeon Point, N.Y. to Crystal Beach, Ont., doing it in five hours, 40 minutes, 35 seconds — more than two hours faster than the previous record.

Now 15, British-born Scognamillo is getting ready to conquer the larger Great Lake July 24–25. And she’ll do it as a Canadian citizen.

“When I swam Lake Erie, they put me down as a landed immigrant or a British citizen,” the Vaughan Aquatic Club member said Tuesday. “I was a little miffed about that because I did all the fundraising . . . for Sick Kids and they put me down as a British citizen. I was like, ‘Come on!’ ”

Scognamillo became a citizen on Canada Day, ensuring that any record she sets crossing the 52-kilometre route from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto — completed by Marilyn Bell 55 years ago — will enter the books as Canadian.

“It’s nice,” she said. “I kind of feel as though I’m representing Canada now — 100 percent for Canada.”

Though the Lake Ontario swim is more than 30 kilometres longer than last year’s record-breaking Erie crossing, Scognamillo said she’s confident she can do it — which would make her the youngest to — and in under 20 hours. Breaking the speed record would be a bonus, she said.

“The fastest would be pretty amazing,” Scognamillo said. “It’s really fast: it’s 15 hours and 10 minutes.

“The time record is on the horizon again, but again, I’m not expecting to do it.”

To prepare for the swim, Scognamillo has had to endure what most would consider extreme training and overcome a few fears, including night swimming, waves, cold water and seaweed, she said.

“The seaweed is only for a little bit, so I’m sure that once I’ve swam 51-and-a-half kilometres, the last 500 metres I’m not going to go ‘Eww’ and turn around and swim back,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not going to do that.”

To get used to the cold she’ll encounter in the murky depths of Lake Ontario, Scognamillo has trained extensively in frigid water, even going as far as skipping hot showers for two years.

The training’s been tough, she said, but necessary. Once in the water, she’ll have to stay in the water until reaching Marilyn Bell Park on Toronto’s shore.

“I’m allowed to have a break as long as I tread water,” Scognamillo said. “I’m not allowed to touch the boats or anything like that, but they can throw food at me and water.”

Like last year, Scognamillo is using her swim to raise funds for an incubator for Sick Kids hospital’s neonatal unit. She’s set a goal of $70,000 and is already halfway there, thanks to donations through her website,, and help from her lead sponsor, Kinetico Home Water Systems, she said.

The staff at Sick Kids is rooting for her, Scognamillo said.

“They actually gave me an opportunity to go and have a tour of the (neonatal) unit there and I saw some kids,” she said. “All of the nurses who were working there, they were all like, ‘This is so amazing’.

“All of those little memories are going to be with me while I’m swimming.”

Vaughan Today
In print: July 10, 2009, page 8
Online: July 12, 2009 [link]