Solo Swims of Ontario Inc.

Hall of Fame


A Pioneering Canadian Marathon Swimmer

Photo taken prior to the 1954 Lake Ontario swim. On the left, Winnie Roach Leuszler (first Canadian to cross the English Channel) is seen with Marilyn Bell (right). In the centre is a Mystery Lady who acted as a stand-in for Florence Chadwick (World record holder for the English Channel, England to France, 1951-1964).
Copyright: STAR Newspaper Services, Toronto, 1954.
Winnie with her father during her recovery in hospital after the 1954 Lake Ontario race with Marilyn Bell and Florence Chadwick.
Copyright: STAR Newspaper Services, Toronto, 1954.

The photographs below were supplied by Sharon Jones (Winnie's daughter). They depict a number of key events from Winnie's successful France-England, 13 hour 25 minute, Channel swim in 1951. The crew members in the row boat were: oarsman, a member from the accompanying boat "Persever"; centre, Eddie Roach; stern, a volunteer from St Thomas, Ontario who was recruited on the beach prior to the start of the swim. If anyone has knowledge of the names of the oarsman and/or un-named Canadian crewman, please contact me.

The following write-up was formulated by Lake Ontario conqueror Debbie Pifko (nee Roach) for Winnie's induction into the Ontario Swimming Hall of Fame in 1999.

Winnie was born February 3 1926 in Port Credit , Ontario and was the 3rd oldest of 12 children. Winnie started swimming at the age of 3. She started competitive swimming and won her first long distance swimming medal at age 9 for a 1-1/2 mile swim in the Port Credit River in Ontario.

At age 11, she placed 7th in the one mile Senior Women's Championships at the Canadian National Exhibition. She won the Ontario Swimming Championship and was presented with Awards for swimming by the Premier of Ontario for two years. At the Quebec championship she won the free style and back stroke. She won the First National Amateur Athlete Association Championship to come to Canada in 1943, one mile long distance swim, and in 1944 a 2-1/2 mile distance swim. She was the first in Canada to win the Junior National AUU 2-1/2 mile Long Distance Swim Championship in Clementon, Lake Park , New Jersey USA. In 1944 at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto she won the 50 yds, 100 yds, 220 yds, 440 yds and on the same day placed 1st in the 3 mile swim over 11 male competitors.

In 1944 Winnie was selected by Clary Satell, a sports reporter, as Canada's all-round Athlete Of The Year for Swimming, Diving, Softball, Track and Field, Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis and Hockey. In the same year, she joined the Canadian Women's Corp. and during the war years she dominated by winning the Army, Navy, and Air Force Championships in all events.

In 1946 Winnie married Morris Leuszler and in the following year she placed second in the 5-mile World Championship Swim in Toronto, three months after her first child was born. That same year she was the first women hired by the YMCA to initiate and set-up programmes for swimmers to learn to swim and coached in Kitchener, Ontario.

In 1949 she placed second in a 5-mile World Championship when she was 4 months pregnant with her second child. In 1951 Winnie became the first Canadian to conquer the English Channel. She became the first mother-of-three to complete the Channel . She was the first person known to come within 100 yds of shore and be washed back 6-1/2 miles to rally and finish the Channel Swim. She finished the swim on her first attempt in 13 hours and 25 minutes.

As time went by Winnie's husband had a career in the Air Force. They were posted to many places in Canada and overseas, and wherever Morris was stationed Winnie went with him. On September 6, 1954 Winnie attempted to swim Lake Ontario with Marilyn Bell, but had to stop her swim after having boat problems.

Also in 1954, after moving to Calgary, she became involved in the Red Cross Water Safety Program, Royal Lifesaving Program, Stampedes Aquatic Club and Calgary Aquatic Club. Many Municipal, District, Provincial and Canadian Championships were won when Winnie coached and managed these clubs. From 1954 to 1958, Winnie taught over 5,000 adults and children the Learn-To-Swim programme she established. She was always involved and set-up the first Handicap Swim Programme as early as the 1940's with great success.

In 1957 she won the Toastmistress Of The Year award in Calgary with her topic being, " Behind the Headlines" which outlined her 1951 Channel Swim. From 1958 to 1962 she swam and coached with the Metz Moselle Swim Club in France. She won many events in Germany, Luxemburg and Holland, and won short- and long-distance swims in France. In 1962 she won French Long Distance Championships for adults over thirty-two years old.

On November 22, 1996 Winnie was inducted into The Canadian Forces Sports Hall Of Fame for both swimming and Softball.

In her final years Winnie Roach Leuszler lived in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.

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Created: 21st January 2001
Last Updated: 26th February 2013