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Ottawa teen shows perseverance in Great Lakes swim attempt

Maya Farrell lost both her mother and grandfather earlier this year, while training to swim across the widest section of Lake Ontario.
2018-07-10 maya farrell
Maya Farrell (right) poses, after her swim, with Vicki Keith (left), who was the first person to swim across all five Great Lakes, and the only person to have completed the 104 km double crossing of Lake Ontario. She also helped Farrell train for this swim. Photo/ Maya Farrell on Instagram (@mayaswim2018)

An Ottawa teenager hopes that her attempt to swim across Lake Ontario will serve as inspiration for others to push themselves harder, and strive to achieve their life goals.

Maya Farrell, 16, started swimming at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club when she was five. 

By the age of ten, her grandfather was encouraging her to get into long distance swimming, and suggested that she could swim across Lake Ontario some day.

Four years after that, Farrell found herself swimming across the lake, having to be pulled from the water just 300 m from shore due to a thunderstorm which had rolled in.

"I love swimming, I've always loved the distance events, and I love being alone," Farrell told The Rick Gibbons Show on 1310 NEWS. "I've always preferred the challenge of having to swim that long, and I've always wanted to see just how far I could go."

Shortly after her first attempt, the teen started training with the goal of becoming the first person to swim the widest stretch of Lake Ontario (88 km) between Rochester, New York, and Brighton, Ontario.

"My goal was to push myself to the absolute limit, and for my first Lake Ontario swim, as crazy as it sounds, it didn't do that for me. I always felt I could have given it more," Farrell said.

But she would have to push through more than just physical barriers to complete this monumental task.

Farrell's mother, who she called her best friend, passed away back in February. The next month, her grandfather, who inspired her to get into distance swimming, also died.

"I was thinking, maybe the swim isn't even possible, but I remember, a couple days after [my mom] passed away, talking to my dad and saying, 'I really want to do this,' and he supported me the whole way."

Listen to the full conversation with Maya Farrell:

Last weekend, Farrell swam for 20 hours, making it 35 km across Lake Ontario before having to be pulled out of the water due to shoulder pain.

She told 1310 NEWS that she had been trying not to think too much about her mom or grandfather during her training, and didn't want to think about them during her swim, with the fear that her emotions could derail her swimming mission. Although she admitted it may have played a small part in the end, Farrell said she didn't really feel right from the beginning of her second attempt to cross the great body of water.

Still, she was amazed by the support that poured in from her friends, family, and the entire community.

"The hardest thing for me in these swims is still believing that [my swim] is a great accomplishment. Because, in my mind, I'm still so young, so in my opinion it wasn't successful," Farrell explained. "So reading all of these messages, it's really made me believe that [it did mean something]. It's meant a lot to me."

During the course of her training, Farrell also set out the goal of raising $10,000 for Music Heals, which is an agency raising money and awareness for music therapy programs. It's nearly reached it's goal. Donations are still being accepted at

Outside of swimming, the 16-year-old plays piano and classic guitar, and continues to set her personal goals high -- hoping to become a doctor one day.

"I really hope [my journey] inspires people to keep working and give it their all, through anything they want to do."

Living that sentiment, Farrell added that she will be back in the water soon, training for another marathon swim. She just hasn't decided where or when that will be yet.


Mike Vlasveld

About the Author: Mike Vlasveld

Mike Vlasveld, Village Media Community Editor,
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