‘Just keep swimming’, Ontario man wants to swim 51km in Lake Ontario to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention

“My first open water dive almost killed me.”

An Ontario man will once again brave the waters of Lake Ontario and embark on a grueling 51km journey to raise money for mental health and suicide prevention.

Jason Kloss started swimming as a child and continued swimming competitively until he was thirteen. Ten years later, however, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Dick Kloss, who had conquered Lake Huron after setting his sights on becoming the oldest. person who swam the English Channel more than thirty years ago.

“My grandfather had quit smoking and drinking and wanted to live a healthier lifestyle,” Kloss told Now Toronto on Monday.

The oldest person to swim the English Channel at the time was a 70-year-old Australian. Realizing he would have to wait 20 years, his grandfather opted for Lake Huron instead, completing the 40-mile swim from Port Sanilac, Michigan to Grand Bend, Ontario, on his 50th birthday in 1991.

In 2011, twenty years after his grandfather’s achievement, Kloss repeated the swim, completing it in a remarkable 26 hours at the age of 24. His motivation extended beyond personal achievement as he sought to honor his grandfather and others lost to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. while also raising $22,000 for cancer research.

However, Kloss says the swim “nearly killed” him as he braved the chills, chills and exhaustion while swimming, causing him to fall asleep a few times.

“It was very close to waking up underwater, and I had to pull myself back up because if you disappear underwater at night, no one can see you,” he added. “I threw up for 30 minutes during that swim.”

“And then I didn’t swim anymore,” he said before taking a break. “Until probably a few years ago, due to my mental health and a friend who had died by suicide.” On October 27, 2021, he also lost his grandfather to dementia.

He returned to his local YMCA pool in June 2022, which was difficult at first, but the three-morning-a-week swims helped him reach a place of clarity that had been missing for years. “I find swimming very therapeutic and meditative… it’s the perfect way to honor people who are going through hard times,” he added.

In 2023, Kloss began his first attempt at swimming in Lake Ontario, with the goal of swimming 51 km. Battling bad weather and physical fatigue, he came up short and was forced to withdraw after 18 grueling hours just 8 miles (13 km) from the coast.

Jason Kloss with a crew member after emerging from the water in 2023. (Courtesy of Jason Kloss)

“It was a bit disappointing but that’s part of the game,” he added.

When the tides are against him, he reflects, “In those moments in the water, it’s just you and your thoughts.” But what keeps him going is thinking of his friend Mike Kuipers, his grandfather and daughter Audie, and raising awareness and money for mental health care at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

“I also think of all the families caring for their loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” he added.

“When I have those moments of fatigue, I remind myself…you will come out stronger and better on the other side. Just keep swimming.”

Despite not finishing last year, Jason exceeded his fundraising goal and raised over $57,000. However, true to the heart of his cause, he decided to take care of his mental health by freeing himself from specific fundraising goals this time, and leaving that to the generous donors.

Kloss will begin his swim from Niagara-on-the-Lake on August 8, aiming to reach Toronto’s Marilyn Bell Park, covering a distance of 51km by August 9, if weather conditions are favorable.

He expresses immense gratitude to his crew, many of whom volunteer their time, effort and equipment to support him.

“It’s nothing short of amazing to see all these people come together and make an event like this possible…I am eternally grateful to those people,” he added.

While swimming, he says he loves watermelons, but the first thing he wants to do after swimming is a “real meal, preferably spaghetti and meatballs.”

As for continuing the family tradition, Kloss says his daughter takes swimming lessons, but “seems to like running, so maybe one day we’ll do a relay.”

Jason Kloss and his daughter Audie enjoy a dip in open water. (Courtesy: Jason Kloss)

To support Jason’s Kloss2Cross swimming and contribute to CAMH’s mental health initiatives, visit his website.

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