Nicole Mallette started swimming at age 4 and developed two dreams during her swimming career - to swim at the Olympics and to cross Lake Ontario. While she never made it to the Olympics, she did swim Lake Ontario. After a previously unsuccessful attempt in 1995, Nicole finally accomplished her dream on 9th August 1997 by swimming across Lake Ontario at age 31. Finishing at Leslie Street Spit (Vicki Keith point), she completed the course in 16 hours 10 minutes.
Nicole was born in Toronto and her early years in swimming were spent with the Barrie "Y" Neptunes. Her best strokes in those days were backstroke and butterfly. While living in Sudbury, Nicole trained with NOAC (Northern Ontario Aquatic Club) and sometimes trained with Olympic champion Alex Baumann and the Laurentian swim team. When she moved to Burlington, she swam for the Hamilton Wentworth Aquatic Club with coach Nick Rottmann. At age 15, with Nick's coaching, Nicole achieved national age-group status at Nationals placing third in the 200 m Back in 2:28. She was then moved up to the national level of the Hamilton team and swam under Gaye Stratten. She stopped swimming at age 18 and it was 10 years before she would return with her goal to cross Lake Ontario..
A storm and resulting motion sickness forced her to retire from her first attempt on the lake in 1995. Poor weather conditions foiled any attempt in 1996 - so it was 1997 that saw Nicole's successful crossing of the lake. Closely guided by her coach and friend, Colleen Shields, the training for the 1997 swim started in 50°F (10°C) water. First starting at her ankles, then moving up to her waist and chest area, until there was no feeling left - just numbness ! At times, they (Colleen and Nicole) would go to swim practice after the lake training, still frozen and slowly de-thawing throughout the practice. For Nicole, this cold water training proved to be beneficial for her swim later on. Also, to minimize mental pressure on the swimmer. it was also decided by Colleen and Nicole that the news media would not be contacted until she was in the water and through the nighttime stage of the swim.
In preparation for the 1997 swim, Nicole spent a lot of time with her coach, Colleen, at her cottage where they discussed the swim in great detail - along with all of Nicole's fears and aspirations. Similar to Marilyn Bell, Nicole had a fear of fish - particularly sharks - and, while this was not a sea swim, she still had a significant hang-up with swimming at night - the fear of the unknown. So Colleen said she would contact a friend who was in the Navy Seals in the United States, and have him send us "Shark Repellant"that was frequently used in their deep sea dives . . . this calmed Nicole greatly - What food colouring and facial make-up cream will do for peace of mind !.
Nicole was well prepared for her 1997 attempt - her crew included her favourite swim coach from the past, Nick Rottmann, her friend and swim coach, Colleen Shields, and pacer, Dan Foster. The swim started from Niagara-on-the-Lake at 74°F and, while the lake was flat calm, the water temperature dropped slowly during the next 11 hours to 58°F. To get her through the challenge of the lake, Nicole had her own mix of food and drink that included hot Cool Aid, orange-flavoured Gatoraid, hot chicken and hot beef consomme, animal cookies, and banana loaf. During the initial stages of the swim, she fed every hour; however, as she entered colder water, she began to feed every 30 minutes.
A wonderful success and a tribute to proper training, belief in the guidance and wisdom of your coaches, and sheer determination - Nicole reached her dream.
The day after the Lake Ontario crossing Nicole's boyfriend, who had also been along on the swim, proposed to her. They are now happily married as Mr and Mrs Harrison. Nicole still competes in Masters swim meets, but remembers with pride her crossing of The Lake and the support of her dedicated crew.
In 2013, Nicole joined with four other highly-experienced ladies to swim along the length of Lake Ontario.
Their team Because Girls Can covered 242 km in 99.5 hours, under some very cold water conditions.
Their goal was to raise attention towards Gender Inequity for Girls..
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Created: 13th May 2001
Last Updated: 6th February 2022