14-year-old becomes youngest person ever to swim across Lake Erie

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-09-14 06:00

Teen raised $20,000 for Make-A-Wish

Six hours into her swim across one of the largest lakes in the world, 14-year-old Julia Notebomer was cold and exhausted.

“My hips and my shoulders started getting really sore and cramped by doing such a repetitive motion,” she told CBC Kids News. “It was getting really tough.”

For the first time during her 20-kilometre swim across Lake Erie, she considered throwing in the towel.

But then she remembered what got her there in the first place: her desire to help a charity that makes dreams come true for sick kids.

“What helped me was thinking about the kids from Make-A-Wish and what they go through just in their day-to-day life, and that pushed me to keep going and give it my all.”

It did the trick.

Although her swim is still waiting to be ratified — or made official — by Solo Swims Ontario, the organization that oversees swim records for the Great Lakes, Julia is now listed on the site as the youngest person to ever make the crossing.

But it wasn’t without a few hiccups along the way.

In total, Julia Notebomer raised more than $20,000 for Make-A-Wish Southwestern Ontario. (Image credit: Paul Forsyth)

Swimming in the snow

Back in January, Julia — who started open-water swimming when she was 10 — set out to be the youngest person in history to swim across Lake Erie.

“You have to be 14 to do it for insurance reasons, so I figured if I did it on my birthday, I’d be the youngest person to ever do it and I always will be.”

Julia, who is from Stratford, Ont., began swimming five days a week as part of a rigorous training schedule.

During her training, Julia raised money for Make-A-Wish Southwestern Ontario by collecting bottles from local restaurants and selling handmade buttons and freezies.

Julia said some of the challenges of open-water swimming are the weather — which can change on a dime — and watching out for boats that may not be paying attention. (Image submitted by Mirjam Schut)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit mid-way through her training and local pools shut down, she found a work-around.

“My parents ended up opening our unheated backyard pool really early and I started swimming in the snow.”

That stick-with-it attitude came in handy on Aug. 30, the day of the big swim, when Julia encountered an unexpected hiccup at the start of her trek at Sturgeon Point.

Julia’s swim was from Sturgeon Point, N.Y., to Crystal Beach, Ont. She got permission from officials at the U.S. and Canadian borders to complete her route. (Allison Cake/CBC)

Big waves

After Julia was dropped off by boat at the starting beach, she turned around to begin the swim and was a little uneasy about what she saw.

“There were huge waves, the biggest I’ve ever seen. I have never swum through big waves like that,” she said. “But once I started swimming, I got through them, and I just kept going.”

Every half hour, Julia took a break. Her team, which followed by boat, threw her food and water attached to ropes because  she wasn’t allowed to touch any of the boats. 

Julia’s food, which included Twix chocolate bars, Nutella sandwiches, gummies, watermelon and bananas, was thrown to her in Tupperware attached to rope. (Image submitted by Mirjam Schut)

At the three-hour mark, her body started cramping up, and she switched to breast stroke to stretch out her hips and shoulders before returning to her regular stroke.

Another three hours later, with just 45 minutes left, Julia thought she’d have to throw in the towel.

But after reminding herself of her goal — and hearing the distant cheers from the beach — she pushed through the pain.

Julia is photographed swimming from behind with a cheering crowd on the beach in the distance

Around 30 people came to cheer on Julia, including the mayor of Fort Erie, Ont. (Image credit: Paul Forsyth)

“Once I got to the beach, my legs felt like Jell-O from being in the water so long,” she said. “My mom gave me a really big hug and I ate some birthday cake since it was my birthday.”

When asked what her final time was, Julia said it without missing a beat. She had it memorized down to the second.

“Six hours, 26 minutes and 48 seconds.”

It’ll be a number she never forgets. .

In total, Julia raised over $20,000 and her Waves for Wishes campaign is still collecting donations.


TOP PHOTO CREDIT: (Paul Forsyth)

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