Vicki Keith was described as an unlikely athlete, not apt to succeed in any sport. In school she was last to be picked for teams. No matter how this made her feel, she refused to accept the negative comments made about her abilities.
Today, she is one of the most successful marathon swimmers in the history of the sport. Holding many world records, Vicki has become, to many, the face of marathon swimming in Canada. Her most recognized accomplishments include becoming the first person to swim across all five Great Lakes in 1988, and for being the only person to complete the 104 km double crossing of Lake Ontario.
The endurance aspect of marathon swimming covers a variety of evils including cold conditions, rough water, jelly fish, etc. – but for the unlucky, it may also include the occasional encounter with pollution. Vicki has encountered more than her fair share of oil slicks during her swims on Lake Ontario and during the Darling Harbor portion of her Australian swim.
Vicki completed five successful crossings of Lake Ontario, including the only successful two-way swim to date, and the only crossing using solely the butterfly stroke. In 1988, Vicki completed a major swim on each of Canada’s five Great Lakes (Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario) — all in the same year. Ten years after her 1988 feat, the city of Toronto honored her by naming the point of Leslie Street Spit, after her—Vickie Keith Point. There is a plaque on the point that says, “This point of land was the most famous arrival and departure point for Vicki Keith’s Lake Ontario Swims.”
Vicki’s dream has always been to make a difference in the lives of people, so, in 2005, when the need for new opportunities for children with disabilities in Kingston, Ontario became apparent, Vicki came out of swimming retirement, and spent 63 hours and 40 minutes in Lake Ontario, completing 80.2 kilometers butterfly, setting 2 world records and raising over $200,000 for the Kingston Family YMCA. This brought her lifetime fundraising total to over one million dollars.
Vicki Keith’s focus during her 40+ year coaching career has been to provide opportunities that help develop confidence and self-esteem while focusing on goal setting, leadership skills and work ethic. She believes that kids, able-bodied or with a physical challenge, require a place where they can relax, be themselves, be accepted, learn leadership skills and allow their personalities to shine through. Often, kids with physical disabilities have few opportunities where they can go to learn about, and explore their physical abilities.
A coach and a strong positive sporting environment can make a hugely positive impact on these young people’s lives. They can help young people concentrate on abilities, not disabilities, focus on potential, not obstacles and identify possibilities, where others perceive impossibilities or road blocks.
Vicki has been appointed as a member of the Order of Canada and has earned an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University in recognition of her outstanding achievements and service. In 1996 she was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, and in 1998 she had her most famous arrival and departure point renamed after her.
An extremely inspirational talk given by Vicki can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znY6JbrHVt8
Record swims, taken from the IMSHOF (International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame) web site
Date Distance Time Event
2001 32 km Tandem Crossing of Eastern Lake Ontario with Husband John Munro
1990 43 miles 24 hours Greatest distance in a pool 24 hours.
1989 22 miles 14 hours, 53 min. Catalina Channel California–Butterfly
1989 32 miles 31 hours Lake Ontario–Butterfly
1989 6 times Greatest number of Lake Ontario Crossings
1989 18 miles 13 hours Lake Winnipeg–Butterfly
1989 20 miles 14 hours Juan de Fuca–Butterfly
1989 21 miles 23 hours, 33 min. English Channel Greatest Distance–Butterfly
1989 21 miles 23 hours, 33 min. English Channel–Butterfly
1989 14 miles 13 hours, 30 min. Circumnavigate Sydney Harbor–Butterfly
1988 First Person to swim all five Great Lakes–all within an astounding 61-day period
1988 32 miles 23 hours, 30 min. Lake Ontario
1988 24 miles Lake Ontario–Butterfly
1988 20 miles 17 hours Lake Superior
1988 45 miles 53 hours Lake Michigan
1988 48 miles 46 hours, 55 min. Lake Huron
1988 20 miles 20 hours Lake Erie
1987 64 miles 56 hours, 10 min. First double crossing of Lake Ontario
1986 Attempted double crossing of Lake Ontario (one completed crossing)
1985 100 hours Kingston, Ontario–Continuous pool swim
1985 12 miles 11 hours 30 min. Lake Ontario–Butterfly
+actual distance covered (47.18 miles)