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Vicki Keith's Million Dollar Marathon

"Vicki has proven that a successful life means that we are engaged in the lives of others, that we are not islands unto ourselves… Vicki has shown a wonderful sense of personal responsibility and concern for others"
George Bush Sr. - Former President of the United States (1988 – 1992)

Vicki Keith's Million Dollar Marathon

When asked if she would ever get back in the water to complete another marathon swim, Vicki's answer was usually "Only if I am guaranteed to raise a million dollars for my favourite charity."

Finally, after over 10 years out of the water, the opportunity presented itself, and Vicki climbed back into the water to begin training. After almost a complete year of preparation, Vicki was ready. Her goal was to set a new world record for distance butterfly while raising $200,000 to help the Kingston Family YMCA build a new pool. This pool would become the new home to the Kingston Y Penguins –a swim team for children with physical disabilities and their able bodied siblings.

Vicki climbed into Lake Ontario in Oswego, New York and began to swim towards Kingston, but the weather didn't cooperate. 24 hour hours after she began her swim, she realized that continuing on was excessive and unreasonable. She was swimming in 2 – 3 metre swells with a chop on top of that. 24 of her 27 crew members were sea sick, and Vicki had been vomiting most of the night. As the sun rose she was told that she had only covered 30 Kilometres because of the huge waves, and that the forecast was for more of the same. At this rate, the swim was predicted to take upwards of 80 hours.

By the time Vicki climbed out of the water she had already come up with a new plan. To safely organise a 2nd lake crossing in that short period of time would mean compromising safety, so Vick redesigned her route, so that it would offer the same level of challenge, while ensuring the safety of her crew and herself.

Vicki Keith in Oswego

Two weeks after her unsuccessful attempt, Vicki was back in the water. This time the route was a shore line swim that saw her travel from Point Petre in Prince Edward County to Long Point, then diagonally to the north shore of Amherst Island, along Amherst Island to Griffin Point, across to Fairfield Park and then along the shore to Lake Ontario Park.

She completed 80.2 kilometres, setting a new world record for distance butterfly. The swim originally predicted to take 48 hours took 63 hours and 40 minutes (over 2 ½ days). Therefore Vicki inadvertently set a second world record – the longest solo swim in open water. Vicki had to fight high winds and waves, strong currents, cold temperatures, and hallucinations as she pushed beyond what most believe feasible to accomplish her goal. (For a complete account of her adventure please go to the "Vicki's Log" page.)

Vicki's passion is helping children with physical disabilities. With the assistance of the Kingston Family YMCA, she and her husband John Munro have brought many new opportunities to children in the Kingston area, and are now preparing to expand into Eastern Ontario.

Prior to the completion of the Million Dollar Marathon, Vicki had raised $800,000, with the majority of this money going to supporting programs for children with physical disabilities. By December 2005 Vicki's Million Dollar Marathon had brought in over $200,000. That means, that Vicki has reached her $200,000 goal for her Million Dollar Marathon, bringing her lifetime fundraising total to over one million dollars!

Vicki actually held the world record of distance butterfly at 75.9 kilometres prior to this swim. She set the record in July of 1989. Her 80.2 kilometres also smashed the male world record by 15 kilometres. The male world record is held by American twins James and Jonathan di Donato at 40.6 miles (65.3 kilometres).

Borrowing the Kingston Y Penguins slogan, "Penguins Can Fly" Vicki wanted to demonstrate not only to the athletes that she coaches, but to anyone watching, that nothing is impossible.

The purpose of Vicki's swim were to:

  • raise awareness of the Y Knot Adaptive Programs
  • to develop a regional centre where people with disabilities can learn about their abilities, and where instructors and leaders can come and develop the expertise that they can take back to their community to help the young people in their area
  • to raise funds to help build a much needed pool where people with disabilities can find freedom, and learn about focusing on their abilities

To complete this swim, Vicki began training in October 2004. By the completion of her training, she had swum hundreds of Kilometres butterfly and run over three times that distance. She also completed a vigorous strength training routine that she undertook 3 times a week.

Vicki Keith eating peanut butter

Marathon swimming is an endurance sport that pits a lone swimmer against all that a body of water can offer. In past marathon swims, Vicki has regularly faced up to 3 metre swells, water temperatures in the 7 – 10 degree Celsius range (Juan De Fuca), and wildlife from fresh water eels (Lake Ontario) to Medusa jellyfish (English Channel) and blue sharks (Catalina Channel). Although the swimmer can choose the date that they will start the swim according to weather predictions, once in the water, they must accept anything the lake has to throw at them and overcome these challenges to accomplish their goal.

Marathon Swimmers can not use wet suits. Wet Suits provide extra buoyancy that can lead to artificially increased speed, or apparent endurance, of the person wearing the suit. Even in the frigid waters of the English Channel, the marathon swimming governing bodies refuse to recognise swims involving the use of wet suits. American swimmer Ted Erikson, who swam the second two-way crossing of the English Channel in 1965, likens wearing a wet suit in a marathon swim to completing the Tour de France on a moped.

Vicki Keith Marathon completed

Vicki was accompanied on her swim by a number of large boats that carried her crew, and a couple of smaller boats including a kayak that could stay closer to her to offer her emotional support. Crew members included her husband John Munro, close family members (including her father Brian who was one of the 2 main navigators) and friends.

Vicki stopped every hour to hour and a half to tread water and eat. This is the only human contact she had during the entire endeavour. While her crew tossed her, her mostly liquid meals, she had short conversations and acquired any information she needed. Although there can not be any physical contact during feeding breaks, the opportunity to speak for a minute or two while she gulped down her sustenance was of great importance to her.

"The magic that she offers is the magic of extravagant success in a world that so often seems filled with dreary failure. And the lesson she offers is that if we all examine ourselves, we can find parts that are special, and achieve our own impossible dreams."
Harvey Schacter - Kingston Whig Standard