In 2013, Jeremy Ryant was travelling with his Dalhousie Tigers swimming teammates when their bus lost a wheel on the Confederation Bridge.
While he and his friends were left in limbo for hours, Ryant started wondering what it would be like to swim the Northumberland Strait, a 15-kilometre stretch of water from Cape Jourimain to Borden-Carleton, P.E.I.
“I really had a chance to look over and get a sense for the strait and just how large it was and how expansive it was and how it was something I had never really seen before,” said Ryant, who grew up in Winnipeg and moved to Halifax for his undergraduate and law degrees.
“That’s, I think, when the thought first went through my mind.”
Seven and a half years later, Ryant figured it was time to take the plunge. He decided to register for the Big Swim, an annual charity swim across the Northumberland Strait.
The Big Swim donates the money it raises to Brigadoon Village, a Nova Scotia-based camp for children and youth living with chronic illnesses.
Ryant heard about the Big Swim from a fellow Dalhousie swimmer. He grew up going to summer camp and wants other kids to have the same experience he had.
“So I thought, well, if there’s something that I can do that helps some kids that could really use a week of just being kids and something that allows me to do something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile … why not?”
Ryant has been training for the Big Swim since the beginning of June. He said he’s swam 130 kilometres in lakes, oceans and pools in preparation since then.
“By the time we actually got to the day itself, I mean 15 kilometres is certainly a huge distance, but it was really the cherry on top.”
On Aug. 18, the day of the swim, 44 swimmers and kayakers embarked on the Big Swim from Cape Jourimain around 9 a.m. The kayakers paddle alongside the swimmers, shouting encouraging words and providing food and water to ensure the swimmers have enough energy to complete the four-hour journey.
Ryant described swimming across the strait as an “unbelievable experience.”
“In the last kilometre, you actually cross under the bridge, the currents suck you under, and you get a chance to flip over on your back and see this huge bridge over you. That was pretty nuts.”
When he walked out of the water in Borden-Carleton, his hamstrings started to cramp. He was then whisked away to the medical tent for a quick checkup.
“After we got the all clear, I sat down and ate a whole bunch of pie.”
Ryant said the experience has made him more empathetic.
“I was hurting a little bit and pretty sore [while swimming], but that probably paled in comparison to what some of the kids who are going to Camp Brigadoon face every day.”
Camp Brigadoon raised more than $160,000 through the Big Swim this year. Ryant raised $2,800 — enough to send two children to camp. Each swimmer must raise a minimum of $1,500 to participate.