Colleen Shields first crossed Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Leslie Street Spit on August 10-11, 1990 in 17 hours 56 minutes at age 38.
So, at age 38, she became the oldest woman to have crossed the lake, beating the previous record of 28-year-old Brenda Fisher (1956 swim) and Vicki Keith (1989 swim). Colleen held this record for one year until 45-year-old Patty Thompson crossed the lake. She regained the record on 12-13 August 2006 when she crossed from NOTL to Marilyn Bell Park with an impressive time of 16:30:17 at age 54y 329d. In 2017, American Pat Gallant-Charette, at age 66y 209d, took the title as the Oldest Person (Male or Female) to conquer on this course,
Left Image: At age 62y 325d on 9 August 2014, almost exactly 14 years after he first crossing, she became the oldest person, man or woman, to cross the lake with her swim from NOTL to MBP in a time of 21:33:49.
Colleen Shields crossed Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Leslie Street Spit on August 10-11, 1990 in 17 hours 56 minutes 23 seconds at age 38.
The swim started at 9:00 pm on the Friday evening with excellent weather and water conditions with a goal of landing at Marilyn Bell Park. The water temperature was in the range 22-23°C (71-74°F), while air temperature started at 23°C (73°F), dropped to 21°C (69°F) between the hours of midnight and 5:00 am, before rising to 29°C (84°F) at 2:56 pm when the swim finished.
With mild and favourable wind conditions for most of the swim Colleen, however, developed back pain after approximately 5 hours and this problem persisted for most of the swim. She also encountered nausea just shortly after the start and it plagued her throughout the swim.
After 12 hours of swimming, she slowed appreciably and after a further 2 hours, with Colleen`s agreement, the course was changed to Leslie Street Spit where she landed at 2:56 pm - just before major thunderstorms hit the area. Her freestyle stroke-rate started at 60 strokes per minute (spm) and fell to a low of 44 spm after 6 hours, before steadily rising to 52-53 spm, and finishing at 60 spm even though severe back pain and bursitis had troubled her for more than half of the swim.
Colleen`s 2006 swim started from NOTL at 5:57:50 pm on 12th August and finished after 16:30:19, at 10:28:09 am at MBP on 13th August.
Swim Master Bob Weir reported ideal swim conditions with water temperatures in the range 68-76°F, air temperatures starting at 72°F dropping to 59°F at 6:20 am before rising to 62°F at the finish. The winds were largely absent except for about a two-hour period from 1:00 am. Colleen`s stroke-rate started at 54 per minute, settled to 48-50 for the majority of the swim and finished at 51-52. In a bad 2-hour period from about 9:30 pm, Colleen was sick and stopped several times being affected by fumes from the Zodiacs.
After her 2006 crossing, Colleen was convinced she could break the speed record for the ladies and also extend the ladies age record; however, ``Nothing great is easy`` and, to understand the challenges involved in conquering this crossing of Lake Ontario, it is worth recording the 5 subsequent swims before her success in 2014.
2008, Jul 25: A 6:03:40 pm start with Swim Master Bob Weir was followed by a shoulder injury in the rough water that led to termination of the swim after 4h 48m.
2009, Aug 7-8: After a start at 7:21 pm, Colleen completed about 24 km in 8 h 33m and it was clear she was not on time to break the ladies`speed record so, after discussion with Swim Master Bob Weir, Colleen abandoned the swim with plans to go again at a later date.
2009, Sep 2: With good conditions, the swim started at 2:54:29 am with Swim Master Marilyn Korzekwa. Water temperature started at 20°C (68°F), drooped to 16°C (61°F), before rising again to 18°C (64°F), while the air temperature increased from 14°C (57°F) to 34°C (93°F) by 1:24 pm. After 5 hours of swimming, Colleen started to suffer with the drop in water temperature and was suffering severe cramps in her triceps; with encouragement from the crew, she persisted but the pain below her neck and in her upper back eventually forced her to abandon the swim after covering 45.3 km in 18h 19m.
2010, Aug 18-19: With Swim Master Bob Weir, the swim started at 4:00 pm and had excellent conditions for the first 7 hours. Water temperatures ranged from 24°C (76°F) at the start down to 20-21°C (68-70°F). An adverse WSW wind developed around 11:00 pm, freshened, and continued from W to NW. Colleen was breathing to her right (east) and was experiencing increasing pain in her left shoulder that was now preventing her from lifting her arm out of the water. Due to the winds a change in course was made towards Leslie Street Spit; however, in the last 3 hours she only progressed 0.5 km, with no progress in the final hour. Consequently, she terminated the swim at 10:14:45 am, having covered approximately 47 km in 18h 15m.
2012, Sep 5: After a serious injury due to a fall, Colleen experienced shoulder problems during the Trial swims and bad-weather delays. She eventually started her swim at 6:17:21 am and
had excellent conditions for 11 hours, covering 33 km. At this stage she encountered problems taking-in food, started to show the adverse effects of poor sleep prior to the swim, and slowed
down dramatically. The swim was abandoned after 13h 38m 15s at 8:05:36 pm, having covered 38.3 km. Although exhausted (Upon evacuation she immediately fell into a deep sleep), her
core temperature had remained ``normal`` throughout the swim (36.9°C before the start; 37.78°C at 3 hours before exiting the water; and 37.2°C in the boat after removal from the water).
Swim Master Marilyn Korzekwa reported the water temperatures were in the range 21-22°C and the air temperatures 19-24°C.
This swim was the culmination of all of Colleen`s dreams.
With her 5 previous attempts, she was well-prepared for this swim and, with John Scott as her Swim Master, Lisa Anderson as her Coach, and long-term friend Nicole Harrison as Team Manager, she had all the necessary support for when her spirits might lag during the swim.
The swim started on Friday 8th August at 9:35 pm from the shore adjacent to the Gazebo at NOTL with a water temperature of 22°C (72°F) and her core temperature recorded as 36.98°C.
With the first feeding at 10:44 pm, Colleen was in good shape, thirsty and fed quickly with the water still at 22°C. At midnight, the air temperature was 21°C.
By 1:30 am Colleen was starting to feel sick and this stayed with her for the following 3 hours as a mild NW wind started to develop.
With sunrise around 6:00 am, a continuing water temperature of 22°C, and Nicole entering as her first pacer, Colleen`s spirits rose.
With calm waters and regular changes of pacers, Colleen made steady progress while experiencing some back-pain around 2:30 pm.
At 5:15 pm, the Swim Master noted Colleen was swimming well with the water temperature still at 21°C, and her CorTemp-monitored core temperature at 37.14°C.
Colleen landed at MBP without incident at 7:08 pm with an official swim-time of 21:33:49, to become the oldest person (male or female) at age 62y 325d to have swum across Lake Ontario.
The slide show illustrates Colleen`s swim and the subsequent updating of the NOTL plaque and associated Awards Ceremony on 8th November 2014.
Lake Huron: Tobermory to Manitoulin Island, 1993
Colleen's dream to swim between Manitoulin Island and Tobermory was driven by memories of her mother, Audrey, who died at Tobermory in 1973. She first arranged to conduct the
swim in 1992; however, an inversion of the water caused the surface temperatures to plummet and she never got in the water that year.
|August 6-7: In the absence of any wind and the presence of flat-calm water, the swim started at 10:30 pm at the stone wall on the land-side of the marina entrance to South Baymouth
harbour on Manitoulin Island, with air temperature of 16°C (61°F) and the water temperature in the harbour at 18°C (64°F); however, before Colleen had completed the crossing of the
harbour mouth, the water temperature was recorded as 11°C (52°F). It was assumed that the cool water was a result of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry which had just docked; however, the
water temperature never rose during the next 3 hours.
Colleen fed after the first hour and then at the following 30-minute marks; however, within 2 hours, she was starting to shiver. Her core temperature was being monitored via a radio-telemetry pill and for the first hour of the swim it was reading 38.07°C compared to the "normal" body temperature of 37°C. This initial rise in temperature is characteristic of well-trained swimmers when they start swimming in cold water - the peripheral blood vessels close down to reduce the loss of heat, and the muscles are generating heat that raises the core temperature. However, within the next 30 minutes, the core temperature was at 37.73°C, dropping to 37.49°C by 1:00 am and continuing to fall to 37.25°C when the swim was aborted with Colleen reporting that her arms had seized-up and she was starting to feel light-headed. In the power boat and covered in blankets, her core temperature was reading 37.25°C. The swim was terminated at the north end of Fitzwilliam Island after covering almost 8 km in just under 3 hours.
While these core temperatures (>37°C) alone would not draw concern, the falling readings and the pain being experienced by Colleen in her extremities was a good indicator of the subsequent drop in core temperature that was about to occur as her body was re-warmed. Colleen was evacuated via the power boat to the Tobermory Clinic where she was checked out by Dr George Harper, Director of the Hyperbaric Facility. By 8:30 am, after some sleep, Colleen was visited by the Swim Master and was much improved but was still very fatigued from the effects of the cold.
|August 21-22: Just two weeks after the aborted first swim, a new team assembled with Colleen on
Saturday 21 August 1993.
In the absence of a map of the actual course, the details in the Swim Master's report have been used to recreate the adjacent plot from his descriptions.
After reviewing the weather conditions at 4:30 pm it was decided that the forecasted prevailing winds warranted a start from Tobermory and so, after final preparations, the swim got underway at 6:30 pm from the eastern side of the entrance to Tobermory harbour, with a clear sky and flat water. The probable GPS location being 45.262626°N, 81.665071°W.
The water temperature started at 22°C (71°F) and ranged down to 20°C (68°F).
Initial air temperature was 25°C (77°F) and dropped to a low of 16°C (60°F).
Colleen fed regularly at intervals of 30-75 minutes and maintained a stroke rate of 51-54 per minute.
After 10 hours of swimming, Colleen experienced a couple of tough spells at 4:30 am and 7:00 am and her left shoulder had start to give her problems. By this stage, the waves were 1 metre in height from the west, with a forecast of stronger winds and 2-metre waves. With a distance of 10 miles to go to South Baymouth, it was decided to change course and aim for the nearest point on Manitoulin Island. With the Swim Master accompanying her for the final 3 miles, Colleen landed at the most southerly point of Manitoulin Island with a total swim time of 16 hours 15 minutes. From the Swim Master's description of the finishing point, the estimated GPS location is 45.515203°N, 81.847315°W.
With the course outlined on the map above, the distance covered was approximately 23.4 miles (37.6 km).
2013 Lake Ontario Relay
In 2013, Colleen joined four other highly-qualified ladies to swim along the length of Lake Ontario.
Colleen has a history of achievements in sprint swimming, and took part in Canada's Olympic Trials in 1968 on both the 100 and 200 m Backstroke. She has continued her sprint swimming through Masters competition, representing Etobicoke Masters.
In 1997, Colleen received the Cliff Lumsdon Award of SSO in recognition of her marathon swimming achievements, her service on the SSO Board, and her continued support of other swimmers.
SSO Home Page | Lake Ontario Swim List | Lake Huron Swim List
Cliff Lumsdon Award | NOTL Plaque | Contact WebMaster
Created: 8th May 2001
Last Updated: 6th February 2022