The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Marilyn Bell

Swimming

1954


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Video of Marilyn Bell - 4:27 min




I’m standing there watching them leaving, and it’s pitch black. I don’t see my light, I don’t see my boat.
But, Gus said, dive in and swim straight out of the Niagara River and I’ll find you.
Of course then when I hit the water and I opened my eyes, all I could see was darkness.
Eventually, he found me and I remember stopping and saying Gus, Gus you found me!
And of course burst into tears. I had been petrified, just petrified.

Day break itself, with the rising of the sun, I’ve always said reminded me of, it had to be like the first Sunday, it just popped up.
It was so beautiful and that really spurred me.
But then as the morning progressed I began to get more tired and I had cramps in my stomach, my legs were aching, and at some point I stopped and I said
"Gus, I, I can’t go on. I don’t want to give up but I can’t do it. I just, you know, I have so much pain in my legs."
Gus had other ideas; he knew that I wasn’t done.
So he, at one point I said "I can’t move my legs any longer, they’re paralyzed, I can’t feel my stomach."
Which was all true, I thought. Well the pain in my stomach was true, the legs, you know, they were cold.
He said, "Ok, are you sure you’ve had enough?" And I said, "Yea, I’ve had enough."
He said alright, "if you’re sure you’re asking me to get out." I said, "I am sure." Ok, swim to the boat.
So, I put my head down, I started swimming to the boat and I made a mistake.
I started to kick my legs because I was getting out, I was swimming to the boat. He had the boatman speed up and he moved away from me.
And I am swimming for, I don’t know how long but then all of a sudden, I realized you’re moving this boat.
And I stopped and I hollered at him "What are you doing? I told you I am getting out."
And he said, "You’re legs aren’t paralyzed, you were kicking." So I put my head back in the water.
I was angry, I felt like he had tricked me. I really at the moment, I know I hated him, for doing that to me,
but he knew his swimmer and he knew that I’d get over the anger and he also knew I would have never forgiven him
if I had been able to swim like that and he had pulled me out. He took so much static for that.
So much bad press because it appeared to be a very cruel thing to do.
But it wasn’t cruel. It’s what he had to do. Marathon swimming is not a pretty sport.

Life totally changed. Throughout my whole life, I have always referred to before the swim and after the swim.
And it was the Lake Ontario swim that changed everything.
I went from a very private little shy teenage kid who, all I wanted to do was to go to school and swim.
And suddenly I was this public person. I received tons and tons of mail.
You know, the parents would write, "I hope my daughter grows up to be just like you, not for the swimming, but for the way you are."
I get emotional when I think about it because it was a very heavy load.

When I got the call that I had been awarded the Lou Marsh and I couldn’t believe it.
I love it because the trophy itself is a piece of wood on a wooden base.
It’s so plain, it’s so unassuming…It’s so Canadian…because, there’s a wholesomeness about what that represents to me.