Loren King is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, an open water swimmer, and an advocate for the Great Lakes. He has swum the Marilyn Bell route across Lake Ontario, and the English Channel.

Loren grew up in Ancaster, a historic town in Hamilton, Ontario, near the western shores of Lake Ontario. He’s also lived in Boston and Baltimore, never too far from the water. After living in the United States for a decade, he is now back in Hamilton. You can often find him swimming at Burlington Beach near the Skyway Bridge.

Open water memories

It’s hard to grow up in Ontario and not have fond childhood memories of our lakes and waterways. Loren is no exception, recalling in particular the shorelines of the Bruce Peninsula.

“The Bruce Peninsula around Tobermory and Lion’s Head is one of my favourite places on earth. I love the deep cold waters there. The limestone cliffs are such a stunning backdrop. I always find myself drawn that way.”

He also remembers childhood trips to see family in New Zealand, along with cold dips at Queenstown Beach on Lake Wakatipu, a deep glacial lake in the Otago region. Loren’s grandmother and mother grew up swimming in those icy waters.

Like Lake Ontario, people don’t expect Wakatipu to be as cold as it sometimes is, and would-be swimmers are occasionally caught unawares.

Lake Wakatipu. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Like many who rediscover swimming as adults, Loren was a competitive pool swimmer in his youth, training with the Hamilton Wentworth Aquatic Club. After a shoulder injury, he found that early mornings, the smell of chlorine, and weekend swim meets had lost their appeal.

He worked as a lifeguard through college, but in graduate school rock climbing became his new obsession. He went on long climbs in New Hampshire to find that feeling of being but a tiny part of an immense vista. This sense of becoming one with something much bigger is also something Loren would come to find in wild swimming.

Loren King's English Channel crossing in 2019. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Returning to the open water

While living in Baltimore, Loren saw notices for the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim. Though he never took part in the challenge, it got him thinking about open water swimming.

Returning to Canada in 2004, he rediscovered the Great Lakes, falling in with a group of self-described ‘crazy swimmers’ called L.O.S.T. Swimming (Lake Ontario Swim Team). Here he met Madhu Nagaraja, Lynn DeLathouwer-Rodgers, and a host of kindred spirits who he has been swimming with ever since.

The beginning of Loren King's Lake Ontario crossing in 2016. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Swimming pools vs. the call of open waters

When he’s in the open water, Loren finds that he’s either thinking about everything or nothing. Long swims in the ocean and big lakes make him feel a part of the boundless landscape. “It’s not that it’s humbling, or terrifying, or gratifying. You’re just there and you can turn everything else off.”

It is, though, a chance to reflect on the long and impressive legacy that today’s Great Lakes swimmers have inherited: pioneers like Marilyn Bell, the first swimmer across Lake Ontario, who then went on to swim the English Channel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And Vicki Keith, who in the summer of 1988 completed a marathon swim in each of the Great Lakes, an achievement that, three decades on, has never come close to being repeated.

Loren encounters a ship during his English Channel crossing. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Swimming across Lake Ontario

“These days, I find myself increasingly drawn to the juxtaposition of the wild and the urban. In Lake Ontario, you’re swimming to this city that’s growing out of the horizon.”

Lake Ontario is Loren’s home waterbody.

Situated at the end of the interconnected chain of Great Lakes, Lake Ontario gets all of the pollutants coming out of Erie (and the other three Great Lakes upstream). Lake Ontario’s biggest threats are urban development, electricity generation, and sewage and stormwater pollution.

Once upon a time, swimmers were discouraged from entering Lake Ontario due to concerns about water quality. But through the work of dedicated people and organizations, Lake Ontario has proven resilient. As of 2020, there are 29 Blue Flag certified beaches in Canada, with many in the Great Lakes region. Today, Lake Ontario welcomes swimmers like Loren.

Loren King approaching Toronto at the end of his Lake Ontario crossing. Photo courtesy of Loren King

“Swimming is the key indicator of success in treating pollution from rendering water unfit for humans and wildlife.”

— Mark Mattson, President of Swim Drink Fish and Waterkeeper for Lake Ontario

In 2016, Loren swam 52 kilometers across Lake Ontario. It was his first—and longest—big swim. Looking back, he thinks it’s a miracle he did it.

Today, he reflects, “There were some miserable times in Lake Ontario where I didn’t know what I was doing there. But I remembered the things that got me going and kept me going.”

Loren King exiting the water after his Lake Ontario crossing. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Protecting our waters

Loren is a strong advocate for clean, healthy waterbodies.

His swim across Lake Ontario was in support of the Great Lakes Trust, an organization he co-founded with fellow open water swimmer Madhu Nagaragja to fund responsible water stewardship. Loren gives back to the waters that give him so much. Like many open water marathon swimmers, he works to link his sport to a charitable purpose.

Loren King with Madhu Nagaraja. Photo courtesy of Loren King

When Loren discovered the Waterkeeper Alliance, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Swim Drink Fish, he saw a degree of passion, expertise, and resolve around the exact issues he was interested in.

Rather than using the swim as a one-time fundraiser, he and Madhu created the Great Lakes Trust, which oversees a charitable endowment providing small grants for creative solutions to problems in the Great Lakes.

One day, Loren believes that the kind of real-time sewage monitoring that’s happening in Kingston could happen in the Greater Toronto Area. He is working to change the way people think about Lake Ontario. He is on a quest to prove that Lake Ontario is not just a working lake. It’s also a place where people can have fun.

“We don’t have to drive three hours on Highway 400 to go for a swim. We have Lake Ontario right here.”

Loren King during his Lake Ontario crossing. Photo courtesy of Loren King

Swimming a mile in each Great Lake in 24 hours

In 2016, Loren King swam a mile in each Great Lake in only 24 hours. He was accompanied by swimmers Hilda Leahy, Lynn DeLathouwer-Rodgers, Mauro Campanelli, Geoff Farrow, Bud Seawright, and Madhu Nagaraja.

To this day, this event is one of Loren’s most cherished swimming memories.

Loren already has his sights set on redoing this swim with a few minor changes. In the future, he would do it using only transportation with passive power (no driving allowed, only sailing and paddling). He’d also increase the mileage in each of the Great Lakes.

For Loren, the best part about this swim was going on an adventure with a group of friends, travelling through the rugged scenery of the Great Lakes region, and swimming at some of its most picturesque spots.

One of the most magical swims was at Brimley Beach in Brimley State Park.

“We did a mile in the pocket of the bay in the vast inland sea that is Lake Superior. Sometimes you really have to get right into the Great Lakes to realize just how vast they are.”

Find Loren’s home beach on Swim Guide.
Read Loren’s interview with Mark Mattson.
Learn how to deal with Covid-19 uncertainty: Give back with Loren King

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