Back in 1955, the young Gilles Potvin peeked over the shoulder of a big-city newspaper reporter from Montreal. The reporter was covering the unprecedented crossing of lac St-Jean by Jacques Amyot.

Jacques Amyot just accomplished the impossible,” wrote the newsman.

You are wrong,” boldly blurted out Potvin.

What? Who are you?” asked the veteran newsman. “What do you mean?

He would not have done it if it was impossible,” answered the local boy who would eventually be inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. “This is the 100th-year anniversary of Roberval. Our motto is, ‘With a valiant heart nothing is impossible.’ I deeply believe this myself and one day, I too will swim lac St-Jean one day.”

How true this local motto has been for the hundreds of swimmers who have since courageously crossed always tough lac St-Jean over the past 58 editions of the Traversée Internationale du lac St-Jean. Potvin is now 71 years old and still shows as deep a passion for marathon swimming as he did as a young Boy Scout. “I have been to 55 of the 58 races to date. My Boy Scout leader, Martin Bédard, was the individual who started the swim. He was the who thought about it. He asked me to help at the first crossing. I helped with blankets and brought an old typewriter to this sports reporter. I just looked over his shoulder when he was writing his story.”

Potvin continued to peek over the shoulders of others throughout his long career. “I coached John Kinsella who won all six Traversees he started. He never lost and was never pulled out. He was such an open, cheerful swimmer. I also was the trainer for Paul Asmuth. I was greatly touched when I heard Paul talked about his crossing that just missed John’s record by less than 1 minute. I want to remain humble, but Paul answered, ‘[I do not get the record] because Gilles Potvin was not on my boat. Those are such greatly appreciated words.”

Photo shows Jacques Amyot completing the first crossing of lac St-Jean in 1955.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming