Montreal

Jacques Amyot, 1st man to swim across Lac St-Jean, dead at 93

Jacques Amyot, a long-distance swimmer whose conquests included Quebec's Lac St-Jean, a circumnavigation of Île d'Orléans and two crossing of the English Channel, has died at age 93. Amyot died Sept. 7 in Quebec City, where he was born.

The legendary long-distance Quebec swimmer crossed the English Channel twice

Long-distance swimmer Jacques Amyot made a point of attending the annual crossing of Lac St-Jean, after his own conquest of the lake in 1955. (Vicky Boutin/Radio-Canada)

Jacques Amyot, a long-distance swimmer whose conquests included Quebec's Lac St-Jean, a circumnavigation of Île d'Orléans and two crossings of the English Channel, has died at age 93.

Amyot died Sept. 7 in Quebec City, where he was born.

He began his sporting career as a cyclist, but switched to long-distance swimming, finishing second in his first competition — a three-kilometre race across Lac St-Joseph near Quebec City in 1939 — when he was 14.

Jacques Amyot congratulates Quebec swimmer Xavier Desharnais after his 2015 victory at the annual Lac St-Jean crossing. (Vicky Boutin/Radio Canada)

Kim Privé, chair of the annual Traversée international du Lac St-Jean, said that while Amyot may not be as well known among English Canadians, he is a legend among distance swimmers.

Until the end, he was in "exceptional shape," Privé said. Except for this year, he would always come to the annual crossing.

"Every year he made a point of honour of attending the fundraising evening in May and during the week of the competition in July. He took great pleasure being there at the finish line," Privé said.

7 swimmers set out, only Amyot finished

On July 23, 1955, Amyot was one of seven swimmers who set out to cross the 26 kilometres from Vauvert to Roberval in less-than-ideal conditions.

Storms and high waves impeded the progress of the swimmers, Privé said.

Amyot was the only swimmer to complete the crossing, in a time of 11 hours, 32 minutes, and 10 seconds.

A modest man, Privé said his explanation for completing the crossing was because "there was no room in the boat."

"I had no choice but to cross the lake," Amyot said afterwards.

Privé said the crossing of Lac St-Jean remains among the 10 most difficult physical challenges, because of the cold water, sometimes difficult conditions, and the length of time the swimmers are in the water.

Her organizing committee plans to send a delegation of swimmers to Amyot's funeral.

'He was an athlete,' a competitor

"Lac St-Jean was in his blood," Nicoll Allard, a friend of Amyot's, told CBC. "He was an athlete. He always wanted to compete."

Allard recalled how his friend Amyot would joke that he was only the first to complete the crossing "because he was the first to try."

The bird lands on a relaxed Jacques Amyot at the Lac St-Jean crossing. (Vicky Boutin/Radio-Canada)

Amyot was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Association as the first swimmer to successfully cross Lac St-Jean.

In 1956, he swam the English Channel, starting in France, in 13 hours, against strong current and cold water temperatures.

He was the first French Canadian to swim the Channel.

And in 1975, at age 50, he made his second Channel crossing, this time starting in England, trimming half an hour from his original time.

Amyot also swam long distances in the St. Lawrence and other Quebec rivers.

He was named to Quebec's sports hall of fame in 1993, Quebec's swimming hall of fame in 1998 and was made a Chevalier in the Ordre national du Québec in 2001.

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