Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Swimmer trying to conquer Lake Ontario

The Toronto Sun

In early May, Jay Serdula dreamed that he was swimming across Lake Ontario, each stroke bringing him closer to the Toronto shoreline.

He could see the CN Tower looming larger. His body felt fresh and he was feeling good about making it ashore.

Yesterday that dream came true for the Kingston resident. Setting out from Niagara-on-the-Lake at 10 a.m., he is trying to swim across Lake Ontario to raise money and awareness for Asperger's syndrome, a disorder on the mild end of the autism spectrum that makes it difficult for people to adapt to new things.

He is scheduled to end his swim at Toronto's Marilyn Bell Park today between 3-6 p.m.

Serdula, 36, was born with Asperger's. He has prepared two years for this moment, and it's the preparation, he said, that should help him finish the swim.

"Inexperienced athletes are nervous; they focus on results. Experienced athletes focus on preparation," said Serdula, a research assistant in the chemical engineering department at Royal Military College.

"Just prepare," he said, "and the results will follow."

Serdula has been swimming since he was 7 years old. When he started competing in triathlons in 1990, his swims covered sometimes more than 2 km. The swimming portion was not his strongest leg of the event.

Serdula decided to take on Lake Ontario two years ago after following then 15-year-old Jenna Lambert's marathon swim to raise money and awareness for cerebral palsy and the Penguins swim team.

He wanted to do the same, to challenge himself and, after some coaxing from friends, he undertook the task.

On Saturday, two days before he headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake to start his swim, Serdula looked calm. On a walk near his west-end home, he sauntered along at an easy pace, talking matter-of-factly about what he had to do.

The water will bring with it cold, waves and darkness. All are things he will have to avoid focusing on to make a successful crossing, he said.

To counter those concerns, he has decided to keep feeding breaks short and spread out at specific intervals during the swim. Serdula said he figures to be fine for the first 10 hours in the water, it's the remaining hours that he expects will require him to summon more energy and therefore more food to eat.

He intends to swim freestyle -- or front crawl -- for the majority of the swim, switching to breast stroke every so often to give his shoulders a rest.

He said at night he will focus on the boat with his swim master and volunteers, who will guide the way through the darkness.

Although he tends to focus on things due to his Asperger's, Serdula said marathon swimmer Vicki Keith advised him that he should focus on the swim and not on the temperature of the water. Serdula started corresponding with Keith last summer. The veteran swimmer gave Serdula tips on speed training and indoor workouts throughout the year and now she has helped with mental preparation.

Last year, Serdula twice tried to swim for a 24-hour period. On one attempt at a friend's cottage, he said, he stayed in the water for 19 hours." I knew I could have gone on longer," Serdula said. "I knew I was ready."


wildcatsthree said...

What a wonderful thing he is doing to bring awareness that people with autism have value in our society. My niece suffers from autism and retardation and would never be able to do this tremendous effort, as she doesn't speak and is not able to perform many normal tasks, but the water and swimming have always made her feel calm and brought her joy. I applaud his efforts.

Pasyon, Emmanuel C. said...

back in college i did a brief study on the educational support autistic children get here in the philippines. Sadly, there isn't enough. from what i learned for you, i think the most important step is recognizing their potential without being blinded by romanticism.

reading your blog was an edifying experience for me.

Kgraham said...

Very neat... I am originally from Rochester, so the Lake Ontario part caught my eye at first, then the story kept me. Thanks for sharing!!