*Youngest male to cross Lake Ontario
Gregg Taylor was born in 1984 in Oakville, Ontario, eldest of three children. At age 19, on 13-14 August 2003, he became the youngest male to cross Lake Ontario - finishing in 19 hours 23 minutes in his trip from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto.
He led a very active youth; involved in softball, ice-skating, downhill skiing, hockey and football. Gregg's pastimes have mainly been close to water. He joined the Brantford Aquatic Club in 1992. During the summer breaks, Gregg attended the Olympia Sports Camp in Huntsville, Ontario where he was introduced to open water swimming. Gregg took first place award for boys 2 km lake swim in his first year there.
Gregg's swim team friends encouraged him to try other open water events such as the Sun City Swim, a 5 km charity event in Orillia, Ontario where he finished third overall. In 2002, Gregg ventured out of the province to Magog, Quebec to compete in the 10 km Traversée event where he finished fifth in a closely contested race. In the same year Gregg was given the opportunity to be the Coach and Captain of his high school swim team, and as part of the men's relay team they earned a bronze medal at the OFSSA (Ontario Federation of Secondary Schools Athletic Associations) Championships.
Like his mother, Gregg also trained to become a lifeguard and Aquatic Instructor. Gregg has worked for Carole Murray Swim Academy in Milton as an Instructor and for the Brantford Aquatic Club as a Swim School Instructor and Novice coach.
Hans Wittola, Head Coach of the Brantford Aquatic Club supervised Gregg's training. He wrote in the Brantford Aquatic Club's newsletter:
"There is a certain fascination with man conquering any Natural barrier, be it climbing a mountain, crossing an ocean, reaching the North Pole or crossing Lake Ontario. This lake has been considered one of the 5 toughest open water swims in the World. Only 35 people have made the trip successfully, some have even died trying. First of all, the whole thing is a bit scary. Swimming at night over a rather grungy lake in cold water with absolutely nothing to look at is not exactly my idea of a picnic. When Gregg first told me this was his goal for the season I was somewhat skeptical, but over time he convinced me he was serious and totally committed.
Physiologically, I considered the implications of training for this event. I concluded that you could effectively train for the first 4 hours of the swim, but after that, it would be the mental strength of the athlete that would make it the rest of the way. It would be most difficult, but not beyond the realm of possibility for the swimmer to replenish the 600-800 calories needed per hour. Gregg would prove me to be correct in more ways than one.
I knew Gregg would be ready from a physiological standpoint. There were a few moments when I doubted that Gregg was taking the swim seriously enough but eventually he had earned his way, so to speak. He had put in quite a few 50-km-plus weeks throughout the spring with several very insane workouts thrown in. It would help that he had teammates who would join in the insanity from time to time. Included in that was one day where he covered 32 km within a 12-hour period, starting with an early morning workout, continuing into an adult swim, getting out at 10 am and returning for the noon swim, and then getting back in at 3:15 pm for an adult swim, club workout and continuing on afterwards, finally removing his body around 7 pm. For this, Gregg followed a lot of the work sets prescribed in the 12 hours of Christmas which we had attempted at Brock the year before.
The trial swim over Lake Simcoe was one that I could only relate second hand, but Gregg managed to cover about half the distance of the Lake Ontario swim in 7 hours and 48 minutes. Becoming the youngest person to swim across Lake Simcoe and the first to cross east to west. The day he had planned to do it proved to be stormy and quite unsafe, but when the next day dawned it was almost perfect. Luckily, he had Jason Gray help to pace him over that swim.
The biggest problem, other than the procurement of support boats in the days leading up to the swim was the fact that we had been experiencing unseasonably cold weather this summer. As a result of this, the temperature of the Lake was quite cold, in fact between 16 and 18 degrees C. One afternoon Gregg and Kris Franklin set out to do a little open water training down in Burlington, the result was a rather quick exit, followed by a couple of more tries before calling it a day. The temperature was around 10 degrees C at that time and the swim was only three weeks away. Kris was instrumental in making sure that Gregg got to as many open water swims as possible through the end of July and early August. That one trip aborted, there were many others to Turkey Point on Lake Erie as well as Emerald Lake in Flamborough with Marilyn Korzekwa. Training at night proved valuable to Gregg and to those that would hold flashlight rigs also, a short trip to Marilyn's cottage helped co-ordinate swimmer and spotters' efforts.
If the temperature did not improve markedly, the swim would have to be postponed in the hopes that better weather would ensue. As it turned out the Lake warmed up, due to the absence of storms and a spate of warmer weather just before the swim. The only other worry was the possibility of an electrical storm. Had there been any storm activity within a 24-hour period, the swim would have to be abandoned. Luckily, the last storm cells had left our area about 36 hours before the beginning of the swim. The day of the swim was perfect summer weather. Over 30 degrees C, sunny and quite humid. This would keep the air temperature up over night.
The swim itself. Gregg got in at 9:06 pm, the water temperature was around 23-24 degrees C all the way across. The air was warm, the atmosphere slightly hazy with a full moon soon to be rising in the Eastern sky. The water was incredibly calm with nary a wave. We had broken a glow stick and tied it to Gregg's suit so that we could keep track of him in the darkness. The rules prevented anyone from swimming with him until daylight, so we just focused a pair of lights ahead of him and told him to follow. The zodiac drivers did an amazing job keeping at the right speed and traveling in a straight line behind the sail boat which would serve as our beacon throughout the night. Their GPS directions would keep us on the right track in the darkness. The night was not without its entertainment as the Perseid Meteor showers lit up the night sky from time to time.
The first ten miles were the easiest. Gregg covered it in about 3 and a half hours, just about 21 minutes per mile. He had three things going for him, he was fresh and fully fueled, the water was calm and he had the Niagara River current behind him. The opposite would be true as he approached the Toronto shoreline. The Humber River current would be pushing him back, the water would become quite wavy with the current going one way... from the NW and the prevailing winds coming from the SW and his fuel gauge was sitting on empty.
After almost 9.5 hours, at 06:34 to be precise, the sun rose. The water and sky were still calm with a dusty rose hue. Kris Franklin was our first pacer and he was certainly up to the task. The goals of all the pacers were to stay slightly in front of Gregg and to check on the direction. This way Gregg would not have to tire himself out raising his head, he could merely breathe and check the location of his pacer. Every hour we would change pacers and at that time we would also "try" to feed Gregg. Sometimes he was a little less than willing to complete the "meals" we were sending his way. Lots of Gatorade and chocolate bars because that was about all he wouldn't refuse.
Each pacer took their turn in keeping Gregg going, Mark Wood (Woody), Jason Gray (who had just received a nasty dog bite but was willing to sacrifice anyway), Mike Gregory (Barba), Stephanie Hermans (twice) , Cameron Taylor and eventually Kris for the third time. It was as we came close to shore, Stephanie told me that she actually had to work pretty hard to keep up to Gregg.
The closer we got to shore, the more frustrating it became, with the size of the buildings on the Toronto waterfront, we actually looked much closer than we were. At one point one of the drivers thought we were within 6 km of the shore - when we checked we were actually closer to 10 km away. As we approached the end I could sense the culmination of many emotions. The family, the pacers, who had become just like family, sharing in the accomplishment and feeling the triumph of their friend. Just like any race, the last 5 metres or so (or in this case the last 2-3 km) seemed to take forever. There was no doubt that Gregg would finish now, it was just when. We became focused on getting him there as easily and quickly as possible.
The moment Gregg touched the wall I felt a chill go up my spine. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I would not soon forget, nor would any of the others who were there that day. I was certainly incredibly proud of Gregg and elated with his accomplishment. Gregg seems like a very ordinary young man who managed an extraordinary feat. Not too many people would have the courage to even aspire to such a feat much less prepare for it and then do it. As the euphoria of the moment washed away all I could feel was this unbelievable fatigue. If I felt this way, imagine what Gregg felt like? The electrical blackout (Which had hit the northern USA and southern Canada) may have changed the focus of an entire province at that moment, but nothing could ever take this away from Gregg or any of the many people who believed in him and his quest to " Finish what you start!"