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Woman completes swim across Lake Erie

In the last tumultuous leg of her marathon Lake Erie swim, Paula Jongerden, 49, battled high waves, overcast skies, darkness and shivers.

But she had other things on her mind.

"The last part of the swim, all I could think of was those chips they were eating on board (the 37-foot safety boat)," she said by mobile phone from Long Point, Ontario, Canada, about 12:30 p.m. Thursday as she looked for a bag of chips. "I'm going to eat some chips, and then I'm going to go back to sleep."

Jongerden emerged from Lake Erie at 6:37 a.m. Thursday, 23 hours and 30 minutes after she started the swim from Presque Isle State Park in Millcreek.

A nurse at West Haldimand General Hospital in Hagersville, Ontario, Jongerden swam to raise money and awareness for the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve. She is a volunteer board member for an organization that promotes research, education and monitoring of the 8,000-acre Canadian environmental reserve.

"I feel great. I feel very, very tired," Jongerden said. "My body feels like a big bruise."

Jongerden planned to swim 34 miles, from Erie to the base of Long Point nearest mainland Ontario. But windy conditions, high waves and strong currents at the midpoint and end of the swim shortened her journey by five or six miles, navigators and crewmembers said. She instead finished on the west side of Long Point, halfway to the base of the isthmus that juts into the northeast section of Lake Erie.

"That was the closest point we could make, given the weather conditions," Harry Jongerden said. "They were just horrific, just awful (at the end)."

From that point, inaccessible to vehicles, a boat carried Paula Jongerden and pacer swimmer Nick Wilson to the base of Long Point. Paula Jongerden said she slept for about an hour and a half while on the boat.

"She's out here walking around here and socializing with everybody," said Dr. Marilyn Korzekwa, the Solo Swims of Ontario Inc. Swim Master who oversaw the swim. "I would say I could have pushed her harder."

She is the oldest woman to swim across one of the Great Lakes under the direction of Solo Swims, President Bob Weir said. The organization has accompanied eight Canadian swimmers across Lake Erie since its creation in 1975.

Pat Budny was the first swimmer ever to cross Lake Erie, accomplishing the fete on Aug. 20, 1975, at age 17. He was followed by Bob North and Harvey Snell, both of Erie, on Aug. 12, 1989; Halli Reid of North East on Aug. 8, 1993 and Greg Sarbak of Millcreek on Aug. 21, 1995.

Wilson, a lifeguard, paced with Jongerden for the last 90 minutes of the swim.

"It was windy," Wilson said. "We had waves that were probably three feet plus. The moon was covered, and we knew the land was there, but we couldn't see anything. The toughest part was trying to convince her that the land was there. We were swimming along and all the sudden she just goes, 'I can touch bottom.' "

Jongerden was standing, after more than 23 hours in the water.

"She landed on a little sandbar, and that wasn't good enough," said Kimber Jo Marshall, the crew's nurse. "She wanted to make it to all the official trees and stuff, to make sure that she was on real land. She kept walking, 2 or 3 minutes, because she wanted to be on real land. That's the type of person she is."

Though the lake temperature ranged from 74 to 76 degrees, Jongerden said she was "shivering like crazy" as the lanolin covering her body for most of the swim began to wear off.

An ambulance service gave Jongerden a clean bill of health when she arrived on the mainland.

"The weather was just horrific in the end, but she made it in anyway," Harry Jongerden said. "God knows where she got the strength from, I have no idea. It was remarkable. It was absolutely remarkable."


- Sun, 8/25/2002




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