Ashley Cowan was born January 27th, 1986 in Toronto. At the time of her 2001 Lake Erie swim, she was a grade 10 student in Toronto.
When Ashley was 15 months old she contracted Meningitis and, to save her life, doctors had to amputate all four of her limbs just below the joint. At the age of 2, Ashley was fitted with prosthetic limbs.
Although Ashley has always loved to swim, she started her athletic career as a figure skater. After winning a number of medals she decided to try something new.
When she heard about Vicki Keith's marathon swims across Lake Ontario, she decided that she wanted to swim her own marathon. She attended Variety Village- a fitness centre for children and adults with disabilities in Toronto. She introduced herself to Vicki, told her of her dream, and at the age of 8 Ashley began swimming under Vicki's tutelage. That year she qualified for Canadian National competitions. In August 2001 she competed in the Canada Games, winning two silver medals in the 50 metre backstroke and 100 metre breaststroke and setting a new Canadian record in the 100 breaststroke.
On September 7th 2001 at 8:53 am, Ashley walked into the 21 degrees C waters of Lake Erie from the boat ramp at Sturgeon Point marina, New York, seeking to accomplish one of her dreams. Fourteen hours and twenty minutes later she climbed out of the lake, at the Crystal Beach boat ramp, Ontario, having become the youngest person and first athlete with a disability to swim the 19.2 km. All of Canada has embraced "this little girl with a huge heart." People from around the world contacted her to congratulate her. Ashley's response to all of them is:
"Anything is possible if you believe in yourself.
Able bodied or disabled, there are no limitations if you are willing to put your heart into it."
Ashley's passion is helping other young people. She is an ambassador at Variety Village. She speaks to people about the abilities of people with disabilities.
Ashley continues to dream and she has proven that when she sets her mind to something - anything is possible.
In 2012 Vicki Keith released a YouTube video of an inspirational talk that she gave based around Ashley's determination and goals.