Etched on Alex Buehlow’s chest in permanent ink is a constant reminder.
The winged tattoo is four words long - ‘protect what matters most’ - prompting him to never forget his passion for swimming.
“I love to swim, so I’ll never stop,” Buehlow, 18, said of his tattoo. “Eventually I’ll have to stop competitively, but I’ll never stop swimming.”
Buehlow, a Special Olympian gold medalist, has taken that love to a new level as he’ll look to swim 52-kilometres across Lake Ontario Aug. 12 starting in Niagara-on-the-Lake and finishing in Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto.
His crossing is two fold.
The first is to become the youngest male swimmer to complete the swim and break the record of 13 hours and 49 minutes. The second is to raise $100,000 for the Three To Be foundation that helps support the research of neurological disorders in children.
“Both my sister and I have autism, so I wanted to do something for what I have,” Buehlow said after finishing a close to three hour swim at Deer Creek Conservation Area. “They’re trying to help research for something that both my sister and I and others have. It feels good because you’re helping to make some type of a difference.”
In anticipation of the swim, Buehlow, who started swimming at seven and swims with the Wilmot Aquatic ACES, began a training schedule mid-March that has him practice about 10 to 15 hours a week six to seven days a week, not including the two hours a day spent on the road getting to practices.
For Buehlow to break the record he’ll have to maintain a pace of 97 seconds per one hundred metres and although he’ll be alone in the water, he’ll have support nearby with pacers, coaches, navigators, paramedics and friends in kayaks, sailboats and zodiacs, he said.
The daunting swim will have him take brief 30 second breaks every 15 minutes, which will see him drink protein shakes, gatorade and water to endure the journey as he aims to join the ranks of 58 other swimmers who have successfully made the swim.
The furthest Buehlow has swam is 16 km July 13, well short of the 52 km he’ll aim for Aug. 12, but coach Joni Maerten-Sanders said she’s confident of his abilities.
“Physically, he’s set to go. He can swim forever,” she said as Buehlow finished his swim with the sun beaming down on Deer Creek. “It’s tough mentally, but we were in Florida over March break and he swam over 90,000 metres in a week.”
When Buehlow jumps in the water shortly before he begins at 4 a.m. Aug. 12 he’ll hope for scorching heat in the high 30s to keep the lake warm. Fingers will also be crossed for favourable currents as he’ll have to zig-zag at certain points to avoid battling the rocky waves Lake Ontario can offer.
“The problem with the lake is that the current changes in different places,” Maerten-Sanders, who also coached Samantha Whiteside when she made the crossing in 2006 and Jaime Doucet and Sarah Sine when they finished a tandem swim in 2009, said.
“The first 25 km is fast, a lot more than the last 25 km. In his trial swim we went out to Lake Ontario from Oakville and went back into the current and it looked like they weren’t moving, even the pacers had problems,” she added. “It’s a straight line from point A to B, but you have to find the spots.”
Lake Ontario may offer harsh conditions, but Buehlow’s not without his own accomplishments having won a gold and two silver medals at the 2010 Special Olympic Games in Athens, Greece and earning five medals for Team Ontario in the 2009 Canada Games.
“I have a little bit of an understanding of how it’ll be,” the Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School graduate who will attend Conestoga College next year for Technology Foundations, said. “I never thought about doing this. It was something that only came up. As long as I keep the steady pace I should be fine.”
For more information, donating or to follow the swim, visit the Facebook group www.facebook.com/WavesOfHopeLakeOntarioCrossing or www.threetobe.org/wavesofhope