End of an Era: Lake Erie Open Water Swimming Association (LEOWSA) Winds Down Operations

End of an Era: Lake Erie Open Water Swimming Association (LEOWSA) Winds Down Operations

The Lake Erie Open Water Swimming Association (LEOWSA), a cornerstone for marathon swimmers navigating the challenging 24.3-mile stretch from Long Point, Ontario, to Freeport Beach in North East, Pennsylvania, has officially announced its closure. Founded in 2012 by open water swimmer Josh Heynes, LEOWSA has played a crucial role in ensuring the safety and success of open water swimmers over its decade of operations. Despite its significant contributions and a strong following within the open water swimming community, LEOWSA is stepping back from its role, marking the end of a chapter in marathon swimming across Lake Erie.

Heynes, known for his historic dual crossings in 2006 and 2011, cites a breakdown in communication with the Marathon Swimmers Federation and operational difficulties as primary reasons for the association’s closure. This decision came despite the growing interest and successful crossings under the association’s guidance, with eighteen swimmers completing the journey with their support.

The Erie Times-News recently detailed the intricacies behind the association’s closure, shedding light on the challenges faced by Heynes and his team. The news outlet outlined the logistical hurdles and personal sacrifices that have, over the years, taken a toll on the association’s operations.

For further insights into the challenges of open water swimming in Lake Erie and the broader implications of LEOWSA’s cessation, you can read the full article by Mike Copper at the Erie Times-News here.

In a recent heartfelt announcement on Facebook, the Lake Erie Open Water Swimming Association (LEOWSA) conveyed the news of its closure.

We know we are a bit late to the show…… usually at this time of year we are announcing that we are accepting applications for this upcoming season’s cross Lake Erie 24-mile marathon swim.

However, at this time we are announcing that LAKE ERIE OPEN WATER SWIMMING ASSOC. (LEOWSA) is closing its doors and shutting down its operations as the “official safety and observation group” for Lake Erie 24-mile marathon swims.

( primarily the established and recognized “standard course” of approximately 24 miles from the Tip of Long Point to the Freeport Beach of North East Twp.Pennsylvania)

This decision does not come easy to us, after over a decade of service, preparing, monitoring, and ratifying swimmers with their teams across Lake Erie.

This is not due to a lack of swimmers or interested parties that aspire to do this individual feat in the coming years but for various other reasons. (too many to list)

We wanted to give those who were planning to swim across Lake Erie and their respective teams for the summer of 2024 or 2025 an opportunity to make other arrangements to do so, or to seek out other marathon swim events if that turns out to be a better option. We want their swims to be officially recognized and ratified, without question, as it should be.

After all this time we have seen some amazing swims and great determination through all kinds of adversity, such as weather events, scheduling changes, training mishaps, etc etc. We wanted to thank all of those swimmers and teams for the opportunity to be a part of your day and trust us (LEOWSA) for their success.

In this time frame, we have had many successful crossings (more than in prior years to our existence) and only 2 DNF’s!

We grew from just some “locals” who wanted to sometimes swim across Lake Erie on a rare occasion, to an internationally consistently recognized destination for amazing marathon swimmers to schedule and come visit.

We also have to thank all of our boat captains, observers, Coast Guard, Border Security agents, and various volunteers for their endless dedication to assisting others in achieving their dreams.

We also have to thank the local North East Twp Community and Safety personnel for allowing us to finish at Freeport Beach and to be available to be a part of these athletes’ success stories. Also, for being out on the beach for hours on end waiting and cheering these athletes to the finish.

And finally, thank you to Robert North and Havey Snell, the OG’s of Lake Erie Marathon swimming and the original 24 mile Course duo that set the standard all those years ago for us to follow.

We will not forget Pat Bundy is the “grandfather “of cross Lake Erie Swimming, who showed us all what we thought was impossible…possible!

Aug. 20, 1975: Seventeen-year-old Pat Budny, of Erie, received national acclaim for being the first person to swim across Lake Erie, from Long Point, Ontario, to Beach 10 at Presque Isle State Park. The distance between the two points is 23 miles, but Budny, pushed by lake currents, ended up swimming about 31 miles. He was greeted by about 2,000 people as he surfaced from the lake and stepped onto the beach at the end of the ordeal, which he said was worse than he had expected. Photo credit: Erie-Times News

In their farewell announcement, LEOWSA highlighted alternative groups that might fill the void left by their departure. Great Lakes Open Water Adventures (GLOW) and LEOWSA also mentioned Solo Swims of Ontario.

Swimmers planning future crossings will need to navigate these changes carefully and may need to look further afield for organizational support for their swims in one of North America’s Great Lakes.