I am relatively new to open-water swimming. Yes, I have been in a pool my whole life, but swimming outdoors is a completely different experience. In a pool, I can swim forever, but in open water, I tire easily. Sure it’s cold, the wetsuit takes some getting used to, and the shift in my stroke technique might be contributing to a sudden lack of endurance. But the real reason is my fear of open water.

Every time I go for a swim outdoors, I am extremely nervous. I run in and out of the water a few times before being able to fully take the plunge. The simple thought of swimming over deep water where there is wildlife and movement underneath me is almost paralyzing. Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with this visceral fear of mine, but it is a struggle every time my toes touch the water. And because I am never 100 per cent relaxed and composed in open water, this is probably why I tire myself out extremely quickly.

I am very fortunate to live by the shore of Lake Ontario, where I swim in the summer months. When I swim in this calm and beautiful lake, I am acutely aware that I am entering an environment that is not my own, one for which I have the outmost respect.

I often feel like I am all on my own out there in the water, but in fact, some 85 species of fish, and various species of amphibians and reptiles have been recorded in Lake Ontario. Whenever I come across wildlife, I do my very best not to disturb or scare them (although my heart skips a beat every time). What I find most upsetting however, is seeing our local wildlife tangled up in litter – something that could easily be avoided if everyone took it upon themselves to keep our shorelines clean and free of litter.

This fall, you can help make a difference in your community by participating in the 20th Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, presented by Loblaw Companies Limited and a joint initiative by the Vancouver Aquarium and WWF. It’s easy! All you have to do is register at ShorelineCleanup.ca and you can do your part in keeping Canada’s beautiful shorelines clean and safe for everyone. But you don’t have to wait – you can start today! It is as simple as picking up the litter you see when you are enjoy your next stroll by the water.

By Valerie Hould-Marchand, Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup Champion. Valerie’s 15-year career in competitive synchronized swimming was filled with athletic accomplishments that included winning a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games and gold medals at the 1995 Junior World Championships, 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1999 Pan American Games.

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