Take an enthusiasm for the environment, and an enjoyment of swimming, and you have the recipe for 49-year-old Paula Jongerden's pioneer swim across Lake Erie to Long Point. Starting from Presque Isle Point in Erie, Pennsylvania at 07:01 hours on August 21, 2002, after 23 hours 36 minutes, she landed the next day mid-way along Long Point, Ontario. With cross winds from the east, and waves that reached 6-8 feet (over 2 metres), the straight-line distance covered was 43.6 km (27.3 miles). Paula, an Emergency Room nurse from Hagersville, Ontario, became the oldest woman to cross any of the Great Lakes. Her coach was Alan Fairweather, and the Swim Master in charge of the swim was Marilyn Korzekwa.
Long Point is a rare promontory, stretching along a portion of the north shore of Lake Erie. It is used by a multitude of birds during their spring and fall migrations. During the summer months, it is home to many waterfowl and shore birds, and numerous other small birds that inhabit the dunes. In the early days of sailing, its bay offered protection for ships; however, its shallow waters and sand bars captured many a vessel, and the wrecks can still be found in the area. As with many areas of natural beauty, Long Point has come under pressure of developers but has managed to resist them. The area is now protected by the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve and it was for this charity that Paula's swim raised some $10,000.
Long Point is notorious for the strong currents that can develop around the tip of the peninsula. Many said that the swim to Long Point, rather than swimming away from the point, would be impossible - since a tired swimmer would not be able to make it across those currents. Paula proved that it was possible, even in less than ideal conditions. Throughout the swim, the water ranged from 22 to 24 degrees C, and the air hit a high of 29C during day and a low of 18C in the morning. While Paula's freestyle ranged from 44 to 54 strokes per minute, she battled shoulder pain during the last 4 hours of the swim and resorted to breaststroke. As an accomplished Masters swimmer with Brantford Masters, Paula lost little time when swimming breaststroke.
The actions of college student and qualified lifeguard, Nick Wilson, saved the swim. As the boats neared the shore, in the dark and with 6-foot-high waves, a rope became tangled around the propeller of the main support boat - risking the boat being driven aground by the waves. In the darkness and rough water, aided by a pen-light in a plastic bag, Nick submerged without breathing gear and cleared the propeller. . . but this was not the extent of his involvement. He spent a total of six hours in the water pacing Paula - during the final two hours in the rough water and dark, he was the only safety contact between the Zodiac inflatables and the swimmer. Wearing flippers and maintaining a kick-board at the ready for any emergency, he talked constantly to the swimmer, as he took guidance from the Zodiac crew to guide them through the rough water from where it was impossible to see the approaching shoreline of Long Point. This close interaction with the swimmer in the final stages was instrumental in the successful and safe conclusion of the swim.