Marilyn Bell, O. Ont., (born October 19, 1937) is a long distance swimmer born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. On September 8, 1954, Bell started her swim across Lake Ontario from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario at virtually the same time as world famous American long-distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto had offered Chadwick $10,000 to swim the lake as a publicity effort for the annual exhibition.
Bell, who felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers, took on the challenge without pay. After several hours, Chadwick was forced to give up with stomach pains and vomiting while 16-year-old Bell became the first person ever to swim the thirty-two-mile distance when she arrived in Toronto the next day. (A third swimmer, Winnie Roach, also attempted the swim at this time but likewise failed.)
Bell swam for 20 hours and 57 minutes under grueling conditions before she finally reached a breakwater near the Boulevard Club, west of the CNE grounds. The planned route straight across the lake was 32 km (20 miles) but she actually had to swim twice that distance because of strong winds and the lack of modern navigation equipment. Waves that day were almost 5m high, (up to 15 feet), water temperature was 21C (65F) and lamprey eels were attacking her legs.
Bell kept up her strength with Pablum, corn syrup, and lemon juice with water, along with heroic encouragement from her boat crew and her coach, Gus Ryder. Radio stations broadcast hourly reports of her progress and rival newspapers published â€œextraâ€ editions throughout the day. When she finally arrived at about 8:15 p.m., a crowd of 300,000 people gave her an emotional welcome at Sunnyside Waterfront, now known as Marilyn Bell Park.
In 1955 she became the youngest person to swim the English Channel and in 1956 she swam the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Pacific Northwest coast.
Bell was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1958. In 1993 she entered the Canadian Swimming Hall of Fame and was named one of Canada’s top athletes of the century. In 2003, Bell (now Marilyn Bell Di Lascio) was presented with the Order of Ontario.
The story of Bell’s historic swim was told in the 1999 made-for-TV film Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story with French-Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas portraying Bell.