Toronto woman swims in 54 lakes to celebrate 54th birthday

Photo by Maria Herman

How many lakes have you jumped in this year? Maria Herman will hit 54 by Labour Day.

“Just knocked off lake 48—Lac Saint-Louis in Montreal,” Maria sent via text. “Now heading to a cottage on Lac Loranger where I’ll spend the weekend and knock off a few more.”

It all started last summer when friends and family shared an article with Maria about a Saskatchewan woman jumping in 51 lakes for her 51st birthday. “If there is a body of water around me, I feel almost compelled to jump in it,” she says. “This woman exuded that same energy, and that’s why my inbox was flooded.”

But just how do you find 54 lakes to jump into? Since many lakes in southern Ontario are developed, Maria says it was hard to find access points and often had to contact cottagers and resorts and find boat ramps ahead of time. She spent one day knocking off 24 lakes on her list to make the planning process more efficient. “I drove along highway 35 and jumped in lakes all the way up,” she says. “I started at Lake Scugog and went up to Lake of Bays.”

Maria had to contact resorts and lakeside campgrounds to ask for permission to use their water-access points. “People are loving it. Even the ones I cold-called,” she says. “If we drove by a lake and I saw some people on the dock, I would just say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a weird question for you.’ And they were thrilled to hear about it 100 per cent of the time.”

While many of the lakes have been beautiful, Maria says there were two or three that she wouldn’t jump in again. “I can handle weeds, no problem,” she says. “But the lakes with the sludge on the bottom, where you can’t even kick to get out, that wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

Surprisingly, the challenge hasn’t been all about the water. “I’ve been able to enjoy small little snippets of life with strangers,” says Maria. “We even ended up signing one family’s cottage guest book. Everyone’s got a welcoming feeling about it.”

One thing Maria always shares with the people she meets is her challenge’s mission: to raise money for the Centre for Addiction and Mental health (CAMH). “I feel very fortunate that I know getting into the lake can, in a way, improve my entire outlook on life,” she says. “Hopefully it encourages others to find what makes them feel like that, whatever it is to help get them out of a bad space.” 

As of Sept. 2, Maria has raised over $2000 for CAMH. “I think some people are waiting until I finish the challenge to donate,” she says as the big day approaches. 

Maria says she’s on schedule to cross the last lake off her list on Labour Day weekend. But which lake will it be? “That one is a surprise,” she says.

You can follow along on Maria’s journey by visiting her Instagram. To donate to CAMH on behalf of Maria, click here.

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