News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Monday, August 8, 2011

Swimming Across Lake Erie

Miguel Vadillo swimming Lake Ontario, August 2010 (Photo credit: Toronto Star)

If there is a body of water, no matter how wide, someone will try to swim it. A recent article told of a 13-year-old boy, Santiago Vadillo, who wants to swim across Lake Erie.

It seems that last August Santiago's father, Miguel, completed a successful swim across Lake Ontario (see above photo) and that has inspired the son to attempt a similar swim across Erie. There's only one problem: A Canadian organization charged with approving cross-lake swims says he can't do it. The group, Solo Swims of Ontario Inc., (SSO) ensures that people make the swim across the Great Lakes safely.

The SSO was created in 1974 following the death of 17-year-old Neil MacNeil. It seems MacNeil was attempting to swim from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario, when he became separated from his pace swimmer, and the accompanying boat. A coroner's jury concluded that the factors contributing to the unfortunate incident were an overloaded boat, lack of boating, swimming or navigational experience, youthful exuberance, and lack of organization and recommended that the Canadian Ministry of Community Services establish and fund a governing body for the regulation of long distance swims. Enter the SSO.

Which brings us back to Santiago Vadillo. The SSO says the minimum age for a swimmer is 14. Santiago doesn't turn 14 until October 8th, so for months, the Vadillos have tried to convince the SSO to make an exception allowing him to swim earlier, while the water is warmer during the summer. So far the SSO has not wavered. He could make the swim without SSO sanction but the results would not be recognized, and he wants official recognition for his swim, so Santiago will wait until next May or June to make his swim. If successful, he'll be the youngest person to do so.

A list of successful Lake Erie swims makes for interesting reading. In July 2008, Jade Scognamillo became the youngest person to swim across Lake Erie in five hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds. She was 14 at the time. A year later, Scognamillo became the youngest swimmer to swim across Lake Ontario, making the crossing in 19 hours, 59 minutes and 51 seconds.

Oh, to be 14 again.


  1. Neil MacNeil was not only my boyfriend, but my best friend. If he had a sponsor he'd probably still be with us today. Unfortunately nobody would sponsor him and he was determined to swim the Lake, no matter what the consequences. I just want to get the story straight and quit blaming these people his friends... His coach, Alex Ros, his navigator Chris Cornwall, his pacer, Brian Rapson who assisted him to the best of their ability.
    God bless Chris Cornwall who passed away last August 18th of 2012 & you Neil...I miss you more than words can say.

  2. Thank you for this clarification. I am deeply sorry for your loss. May all the brave swimmers who dare to beat the odds find the sponsorship and support needed to make the journey in safety.

    1. I agree and thank you for responding. I'm posting this on my Facebook page on this Labour Day of 2014. Just thinking of my dear friend Neil on the anniversary of his passing... God bless him <3