A Toronto teenaged quadruple amputee became yesterday the youngest woman and first disabled person to swim across Lake Erie, fulfilling a long-time dream to conquer the Great Lake.
"I feel great. I've never had so much support," a giddy Ashley Cowan said shortly after finishing her 20-kilometre swim.
The 15-year-old completed the swim in slightly more than 15 hours, fighting a tough current and a fear of swimming in darkness along the way.
Ashley said the first half of her swim went very well.
But as she was nearing the end of the second half, she really wanted to stop.
"I was screaming at my crew that I wanted to get out.
"But they wouldn't let me," she said, adding she would have been angry at herself and her crew if they had let her quit.
Ashley said what got her through was thinking about a quote she had read somewhere.
"If you think you can't take your next stroke, think about your enemy taking it for you," she said.
Exhausted as she came ashore, she headed straight for waiting paramedics after emerging from the water on the shores of Crystal Beach.
She was suffering from mild exhaustion and hypothermia.
"She toughed it out and we're very proud of her," said friend John Munro, who watched the swim from a rescue boat on the lake.
"Everyone's so thrilled about it."
The determined teenager began her journey just before 9 a.m. at Sturgeon Point, N.Y., about 20 km south of Buffalo.
She was accompanied by record-holding marathon swimmer Vicki Keith, who cheered her on from a kayak.
Mr. Munro, Ms. Keith's husband, said Ashley had fallen a bit off course during the day as she battled currents and swift water.
During the swim, hundreds of spectators cheered and encouraged Ashley, waiting anxiously for her to emerge from the water.
The Toronto teenager said she would not be satisfied until she crossed the lake to become the youngest woman -- and the first disabled person -- to complete the swim.
Ashley was two years old when she contracted meningitis and had to have each of her limbs amputated below the joint.
On land, she uses prosthetics, but when swimming, she powers herself without hands or feet.
In addition to Ms. Keith's kayak and the rescue boat, Ashley was accompanied in the 21-degree water on a warm September day by rescue boats from New York state and members of the fire department from Hamburg, N.Y., which is near her departure point of Sturgeon Point.