top of page

Roach Family Relay

Debbie began the relay at 8:45 pm on Friday August 18, 1976 - a year after she conquered Lake Ontario. She swam the first leg in calm water, at a mild temperature of 74 degrees F. Debbie, hoping to give the family effort a good start, plunged in the water under a blanket of darkness at Fort Mississauga. She capitalized on a strong current and was four miles-or-so off shore after 2 hours when her first turn came to and end.

Ted Jr., who was considered a good marathon swimmer, leapt into the water. Less than an hour later, he had to get out because of a leg cramp. Referring to the darkness, Ted Jr. said, "Mentally, you have to be with it to cope with it. It really hit me. You don't know where you are going or how far you a have gone."

But it was a family effort and Ted Sr., a former Maple Leaf Swim Club member with many swimming awards behind him, went in next.

Then Thelma, who once swam with the Dolphinettes Swim Club. After Thelma said, "The water is just beautiful, but the darkness is something else again."

Then in went Jo-Anne who said, "It's really depressing."

Last but not least Michele, who taught swimming for many years said, "You can't see a thing, but you know there is water all around you and under you. I felt scared in the darkness. I don't know how Debbie made it all on her own."

A faulty reading and erroneous translation of a reading from a navigational aid known as the RDF aboard the escort vessel sent the Roach family swimmers off in the wrong direction. By the time the CN Tower came into view for the first time, about 2 o'clock on the Saturday afternoon, the Roach relay had been in the water more than 17 hours and had covered nearly 33 miles. "At this point we had to make a decision." confessed Ted Sr., who polled the team of six to find out if they wanted to continue or quit. The mid-lake vote was unanimous and in the true Roach family tradition they voted not to quit but to continue as per plans and chose to land at the CNE instead of a closer point off Port Credit.

As the swim continued, the six swimmers rotated more frequently. In the early hours each took one-hour shifts, then for only half-an-hour at a time. By the time they were eight miles off the shore of Toronto they rotated every 30 minutes to battle fatigue. As the Toronto skyline grew so did the determination of the swimmers.

In a final display of family unity, all six swimmers entered the water to swim the last leg together and reach the shore simultaneously to be greeted by thousands of people lining the breakwater at Ontario Place. Just like Debbie, they swam through the Ontario Place marine channel to reach the mainland 22 hours and 43 minutes after they started.

The swim was a success due to the valued help of family and friends. It was monitored throughout by SSO Vice President Joe Caputo. 

Although Ted Roach Sr. admitted the swim was a personal triumph for each member of the family, there was another reason for the swim. It was conducted for charity with supporters having pledged money to the York Lung Association. Upon their arrival at Ontario Place, the family was hurried to the Grandstand where the swimmers were awarded a gift by the York Lung Association. Ted Roach Sr. was paraded around the stadium in a Cadillac as the crowd voiced its appreciation.

Subsequently, the family participated in a six-person relay in Hawaii September 6, 1976. They swam a pair of marathon swim races in shark infested waters and Ted Sr. quipped "At least we didn't get eaten up by sharks."

bottom of page