Inspired through adversity: Natalie Lambert

For the fourth straight year, Natalie Lambert had trained and plotted and planned to swim across Lake Ontario.

On Monday morning, when the winds were high and the weather was bad, her crossing dreams were thwarted. Again.

While the 17-year old from Kingston, Ontario is disappointed about the latest pulled attempt, she has a faith that is inspiring and a will to keep plugging at the task that reminds us all that we’re never given a journey without the ability to complete it.

Natalie has completed two open water crossings — in 2007 she used a non-traditional route to cross Lake Ontario, from Sacketts Harbor to Kingston while in 2008 she crossed Lake Erie using the butterfly stroke. But the traditional crossing from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto, made famous by marathon swimmer Marilyn Bell, has alluded her.

Twice she has pulled from the water and for the lat two years she has been unable to get into the lake due to weather and water conditions. But her belief in the YMCA program which introduced her and her sister, Jenna, who has cerebral palsy, to swimming and her faith have allowed her to endure the setbacks. (See more on the blog post at GOTRIbal.)

Since she was 14 years old, Natalie has been learning the lessons of open water swimming and the power of following your dreams.

How did you get into open water and marathon swimming?

In 2005, my coach Vicki [Keith] swam Lake Ontario butterfly and Jenna and I were part of that swim. She was raising money for our program YKnot Abilities Program, and seeing her do that for a good cause was amazing for me. The next year, Jenna, swam across Lake Ontario and she was the first person with a physical disability to do it. I was part of that swim and I got in the water to swim with her. It was amazing to see that and I thought, ‘I want to do this.’ That was a big thing for me. I prefer now swimming in waves to swimming in a pool.

What do you love about the open water?

When I first started I was afraid of the seaweed. I still don’t like it, but I can deal with it. I like the extra challenge the open water presents you with. I love the waves. I love swimming against them. Riding them back is fun, but swimming against them makes you work hard, you have to kick harder and get all you can out of the pull. There are big wide open spaces. I’ll be in the middle of Lake Ontario and won’t be able to see anything but the tiny little CN Tower and my boats around me.

What’s your training like?

I’m a competitive swimmer year round and in March I start doing some long distance training. I go to camp in Florida with Vicki and she starts giving me longer distances. By the end of May I started in the lake and was swimming two hours and three hours. Sometime in  July was my trial swim. To swim a marathon swim you have to do a third of your distance, so I swam 18K along the shore. It’s to make sure it’s safe for you to swim and my trial was awesome. That’s a big part of it. It’s the longest swim before your marathon.

Of course the mental training is huge. I went through this book that Vicki gave me when I started marathon swimming in 2007 with things to do when you’re bored in the water for so long. You sing songs, think of words, do little mental tricks if you’re feeling down and think, ‘Man I still have 30K to go. Why am I still in the water?’ You really practice mental tricks and try to remember that you’re here for a good reason.

What kind of reaction do you get to your age?

It’s been a lot of positive reaction. People say, ‘Wow, if she can do that when she’s that young, what can I do?’ It’s awesome the stories I hear. I work at a day came and teach little guys there how to swim and it’s been great. The communities have been so supportive. A lot of times people are almost astounded and can’t believe I’m this young. It’s awesome to see how we can inspire people who are older or much younger than us and see how we can inspire people our age, to get others doing what they love. It’s pretty amazing.

What are your tips for open water swimmers?

Don’t get frightend and just pull hard, kick hard and don’t let the cold water affect you. Find something to focus on to take your mind off the pain and just go as hard as you can.

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