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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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