December 6, 2022

History is Everywhere

Vicki Keith

Canadian Vicki Keith is the greatest marathon swimmer of all time. Among her achievements were swims across the five Great Lakes. She began the 48 mile swim in Lake Huron at Harbor Beach. In 2005, she swam for more than 63 hours in Lake Ontario. At one point, she swam four hours without gaining any distance. The waves were that strong.

One day, while working as a swim coach, a handicapped nine year old girl, her arms and legs amputated, came to her with the desire to swim across a lake. The little girl collapsed from exhaustion halfway across the pool. Swimming across Lake Erie was preposterous. She continued to practice and finally, as a teenager, felt ready for the attempt across Lake Erie. Only three people showed up to watch. Their friends were too embarrassed for the girl who was missing arms and legs. Doctors criticized her mother for even keeping her alive.

Vicki Keith believes nothing is impossible. When she was a little girl, the ballet teacher ridiculed her for walking like a horse. She went home and found a book on swimming, staying up all night memorizing the records. She kept telling her friends, “One day.. One day..” She put up slogans around the house and created her own reality. She just kept telling herself over and over that one day…she was going to be a record breaking marathon swimmer. The experts scoffed at her, just as with the girl with the amputated arms and legs.

Halfway across Lake Erie, the critics and naysayers began to notice. Helicopters suddenly appeared and hovered over the handicapped girl as Vicki Keith went alongside her in a kayak. Hundreds of people began to arrive at the distant shore. Only two miles from shore, the girl cried out that she wanted to quit. Vicki Keith didn’t know what to do. They had come this far, were so close. Then she noticed the girl kept stroking after crying for help. All she had to do was touch the kayak and that was it. Her swim was over and they’d pull her out. She’d be instantly disqualified if she touched the kayak. But she never did. She kept swimming and then the shore was in sight. She had done it. Nothing was impossible. Vicki Keith’s TED talk has less than 2,000 views, which is unbelievable. It’s one of the best TED talks that I’ve seen.

Two years ago a Cessna pilot, Michael Trapp, crashed his plane into Lake Huron at Harbor Beach. He came down nearly on the starting point for Vicki Keith’s record swim. She became the first person to swim across Lake Huron. His survival in Lake Huron was a miracle. From CBS:

“All alone and without a life vest, he spotted a smoke stack and set his sights on getting there. He alternated between swimming, treading water, and floating on his back and stomach. He prayed for a rescue.

‘I saw six boats after I crashed,” said Trapp. “Before nightfall came, a big freighter came within 50 feet of me, but never saw me and all the other boats were just too far away to hear me yelling.’

By nightfall, he was exhausted, but refused to close his eyes.

‘If you fall asleep that’s your death calling. So I made sure not fall asleep. I kept my eyes open the whole night, watch the stars.'”

Port Hope and the lighthouse are a few miles up the coast of Lake Huron. On Memorial Day, the old vets held their annual memorial at the cross and flags in front of the lighthouse where Lt. Michael Young crashed his plane  and was swept away in November of 1991. The Great Lakes don’t forgive anything when it turns cold. I’m sure those old vets have some great stories of their own. I listened in on a conversation between an old World War Two vet and a mother with her young son up here awhile ago. History is everywhere.

There’s a remarkable story nearly everywhere and in everyone, if you’re curious enough to look.


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