Athlete Profile – Rob Lines

As we prepare for this year's North Shore Challenge, we look forward to welcoming new #swimbuddies to Lake Erie, and welcoming back returning swimmers. We've been very blessed to host some of the best swimmers and the best people in our sport - and we'd like to spotlight a few of them! Our first athlete profile for 2018 is none other than Rob Lines!
Rob took this photo of the Port Ryerse starting line in 2016, before his first 10km swim.
1. How did you first get into open water swimming?
When I was 10 I needed to be able to swim one length of a 15 yard pool in order to be allowed to go off the diving board at the local YMCA. As a result I have always referred to myself as "a swimmer". Move ahead a number of decades with not much more swimming experience, I found myself at the Kim Lumsdon Swim and Tri Club. My first day Kim asked me how fast I swam. I had no idea that a time (with seconds) was the expected answer. Instead I simply rotated my arms at a medium speed indicating what I thought to be the necessary information she needed to place me in an appropriate lane. She gave me an odd look and pointed to a lane. I asked her what I should do in that lane and she said "16 lengths warm up". My stomach noticeably flipped as I headed to the lane to do my I-am-"a-swimmer" one length. A short rest was imminent because, after all, this was a 25m pool.

Four years and many pool lengths later Kim took the swim group to a beach for open water swim training for triathlons. I had always liked beaches. Little did I know. I had to get a wetsuit which I borrowed from a friend. I was told how difficult it would be to get into it. I was concentrating so much on keeping the zipper at the back that I actually managed to get one leg completely into the arm of the wetsuit. True story.

It took awhile to feel comfortable feeling that your body was encased in a sausage skin. And then I suddenly realized that I was entering into another dimension which I call "the waterworld". It had a feeling so unique and special that I had not experienced in the pool. I started to seek out opportunities (and others) to do more of it. Perhaps it's something akin to comparing running on a treadmill versus a trail in the woods. Now I swim in the pool to build and maintain the strength and endurance for open water swimming.
2. You have participated in the past two North Shore Challenge 10km events - what can swimmers this year expect to face in that race?
Like any endurance activity simply do the training and the day of the race becomes the icing on the cake. The first year of the NSC thirteen swimmers where driven in a small school bus 10 km from the start line. The designated kayakers were in the water and waiting for us. Once our nutrition and hydration supplies were stored in the kayaks it was time to start. The water was like glass and the sun shone. It was A DAY TO SWIM. The second year there were 44 swimmers. The bus was a bit larger this time. And again the kayakers were in the water waiting for us. This time the water was wavy, rough and each time you turned your head to take a breath it was uncertain whether you would find air or a wave. And so we swam this time more slowly and with great concentration. Regardless of the weather (Nature wins every time) there remains a special camaraderie among the swimmers. Everyone is treated in a respectful and kindly manner regardless of ability. You are constantly being observed and guided by your kayaker and support staff. I actually feel as safe in this open water race as I do in a pool. This year will be an out and back swim. Simple enjoy your own effort and you'll enjoy your swim.
Rob, enjoying the flat, warm waters of 2016
3. Both years, you were the oldest swimmer to compete, but no one ever mentions that, since your results speak for themselves. Do you have any words of advice for our more "seasoned" swimmers, about taking on marathon and ultra-marathon distances?
I really had no idea that I was the oldest person competing. That concept never really enters my mind. The longer distances give me an opportunity to see things in myself and to talk to myself in a way that I don't do at any other time. Perhaps it's similar to how a marathon runner reflects at the 30-35 km mark in the race. I always put the race into "chunks" according to either time or distance. For the NSC I stop for nutrition every 45 minutes so I break the swim into those time slots which always seems doable. I started this because one time I found myself alone with the lifeguards at the Pan Am pool at 5 a.m. knowing I was scheduled to do 200 lengths that day. The chunking concept was necessary to replace the internal dialogue of "this is really stupid!" I continue to chunk today and feel it's a critical part of positive self talk. When people ask what I think during a 5 hour swim I tell them that I think about my technique. I try to swim with intention and every stroke counts. When I find myself spending time with thoughts of what and when will I eat next, I simply acknowledge those thoughts and go back to focussing on technique. Just keep swimming!
4. Aside from the North Shore Challenge, tell us about some of your accomplishments - longest swim? toughest? favourite event? Any bucket list swims on the horizon?
This August I'll be swimming from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. It's called The Big Swim and is a fund raiser to send children with chronic illnesses and their families to summer camp. I grew up in Northern Ontario and going to camp was something that everyone took part in regardless of economics so being able to help others take part in this experience is simply a no-brainer for me. We are to be prepared to swim 17km on the day depending on tides and currents of course. This will be my third year entering this event. The first year the waves were 3-4 meters in the middle of the Northumberland Strait and the swim was reconfigured so that we swam out 1 km and then headed along the New Brunswick coast for 12 km. It rained the entire way. The second year I was in the water waist deep with Sam, my kayaker, waiting for the start. It took three of us to get him past the swells at the shore without capsizing. Suddenly the lightening and thunder appeared and the swim was cancelled immediately. Similar to the NSC, safety is of paramount importance. My farthest swim in preparation for this event has been 14.5 km. This year I hope to do about six 10 km swims + one 15 km swim before August 12.

I don't have a bucket list for anything. I just have a couple of races that I do each year. I keep it simple and always look forward to doing them.

Rob at the finish line after a gruelling 10km in 2017.
5. As you know, the North Shore Challenge is a fundraiser for Camp Trillium Cancer Support Centre. How important to you are the causes connected with some of your events?
Since I was 16, I have spent my life surrounded by cancer. My mother, father, sister, four aunts and two uncles all died with cancer. It is something for me that falls into the I-wonder-"when" category rather than the I-wonder-"if " section. This acknowledgement has actually helped me to accept/relax with that concept and I'm better able to appreciate the value of each day. Sounds a bit flakey, doesn't it ? Just try it! Supporting Camp Trillium and The Big Swim is an honour that brings great satisfaction to many. The self-imposed discomfort of a long swim is really not a hardship at all when compared to a child's daily, chronic illness.
6. Anything else you'd like to share about yourself, or about the North Shore Challenge?
I grew up as an undiagnosed asthmatic always being out of breath, feeling weak and physically incompetent. As an adult I have used a puffer for 25 years before every swim, run and bike ride. This past summer I was heading to an out door pool to train and, for some unknown reason, decided to "test" the asthma. I figured if I get short of breath I'll stop swimming and use the damn puffer. I haven't used it since August 2017. I now swim for accuracy (technique) first and speed second. I try to swim with sustained effort and with intention. Each workout must have a sense of ease (not to be confused with EASY) in order to ask your body to do it again and again.

I always wear a flotation device when swimming in open water. If the conflict is Nature vs. Man guess who wins?

I'm doing things physically that I never thought I would ever do in my life let alone while turning 70 this summer. If I can do this so can you. All you need to do is to try (and fail) and try again (and fail again). Take honour in your resilience and perseverance and the improvement is just around a nearby corner. We will be doing open water swims at Cherry Beach (Toronto) starting in June. If you are interested in some lake training for the North Shore Challenge or any swim, you are more than welcome to join in anytime. Be in touch and bring your wetsuit and your sense of humour!