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Colleen Shields

Lake Ontario

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. 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. 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.

1990 Crossing

Colleen crossed Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) 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 (MBP). The water temperature was in the range 22-23 degrees C. 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 a major thunderstorm 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.

2006 Crossing

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. The conditions were ideal with water temperatures in the range 20-24 degrees C and air temperatures 15-22 degrees C. 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 inflatable boats.

2008-2012 Attempts

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 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 in high waves and it was clear she was not on time to break the ladies` speed record so,  Colleen abandoned the swim with plans to go again later.

2009, Sep 2: With good conditions, the swim started at 2:54:29 am. Water temperature started at 20 degrees C, dropped to 16 degrees C, before rising again to 18C, while the air temperature increased from 14C to 34C. After 5 hours of swimming, Colleen was suffering with the drop in water temperature with 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: The swim started at 4:00 pm and had excellent conditions for the first 7 hours. Water temperatures ranged from 24 degrees C  at the start down to 20-21C. 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.

2014 Crossing

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 Mallette 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 NOTL with a water temperature of 22 degrees 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 22C, 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. Colleen landed at MBP 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.

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.

1992: She first tried to arrange 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, 1993: 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 water temperature of 18 degrees C, however, before Colleen had completed the crossing of the harbour mouth, the water temperature was recorded as 11 degrees C). The water temperature stayed the same 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 degrees C compared to the "normal" body temperature of 37C. 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 37.49C by 1:00 am and continuing to fall to 37.25C 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 37.25C. 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 degrees 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..

August 21-22, 1993: 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 water temperature started at 22 degrees C and ranged down to 20C. 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. Colleen landed at the most southerly point of Manitoulin Island with a total swim time of 16 hours 15 minutes. With the course outlined on the map above, the distance covered was approximately 37.6 km.

Other Achievements

Colleen has a history of achievements in sprint swimming, and took part in Canada's Olympic Trials in 1968 for 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. She has Swim Mastered over 30 swims and served on the board for many years, including as Vice-President.

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