Battling fifteen foot waves, fatigue and lamprey eels, Marilyn Bell swam across Lake Ontario in 20 hours and 59 minutes, landing on the Toronto Shore on September 9, 1954. American Florence Chadwick had been offered $10,000 by the Canadian National Exhibition to swim across Lake Ontario as a publicity stunt. Later Canadian Marilyn Bell joined the race along with fellow Canadian Winnie Roach, neither expecting renumeration.
Marilyn set out from Youngstown, New York, directly across from Toronto, to swim the Great Lake. Although the waves were high, water temperatures were low, and lamprey eels attacked her arms and legs, she persevered. Miss Chadwick, suffering from stomach cramps, abandoned the race after several hours as did Miss Roach; only Miss Bell remained. Marilyn battled fatigue, but with the help of pablum, corn syrup and lemon juice to fill her tummy and pep talks from her coach to feed her psyche, she paddled on. Rival newspapers, The Toronto Sun and The Toronto Telegram, published extra editions to track Marilyn's progress. The intended route would take 32 miles, but the Toronto swimmer covered many more miles due to strong winds diverting her from her path. At one point it seemed like Marilyn was semi-conscious, but her coach Gus Ryder spurred her on.
The crowd at Sunnyside Beach, swelling to 100,000 plus, cheered as Marilyn took her 70,000th stroke and climbed out of the water at 8:15 pm. The Globe & Mail reported on September 10 that the 16-year-old swimmer might receive up to $50,000 but in the end the CNE gave her $10,000. In addition, local companies rewarded her with a car, clothing and furniture. Marilyn Bell swam the English Channel the following year and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1956 after which she retired.
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