My name is Madhu Nagaraja, I’m originally from India and I’ve been living in North America since 1994, and I’m a long distance swimmer. We decided to settle in Canada around the Great Lakes actually in a small township called Oakville which is west of Toronto.
I have a beautiful wife who is smarter than me and two wonderful children. This has been a fantastic experience living by the lake, by the Great Lakes.
When I started open water swimming back in San Francisco in California, what I learned was, the community and the spirit behind long distance swimming was not about the swim. It's about bring a group of crazy people that are not afraid to push the barrier. I coined the term, “It’s not about swimming” and that has been my mantra. What water has actually taught me is to be a person who who can bring a group of people and help them focus and achieve a crazy objective. It’s not just my objective, but a teams objective, that’s what water has actually taught me. That’s a special relationship that I have with water.
I swam across Lake Ontario in 2012, July 29 2012, unfortunately for me it took more than 24 hours, just because of the conditions I encountered. But more importantly it was this group of people, a massive community that came together and helped me get to the starting line. People wanted to be part of this initiative people wanted to be part of this adventure, everybody got to swim across Lake Ontario.
What I noticed during the swim is, Lake Ontario is beautiful although we hear, Lake Ontario is filthy, garbage is poured into it, partly true, it is, but it is not as sad or as filthy as people label it. When we moved back to Canada in 2004 and settled in Oakville we learned that people were not associated with the lake. People would not step in the water.
In fact the very day we moved to Oakville, I walked into the lake along with my son and people were actually wondering what’s wrong with this person taking -I think my son was two years old. That was a sad thing because me having moved from India where I had learned about Great Lakes, I think it was grade 4 or grade 5 and my mom had actually visited North America at that time, I think it was early 1980s and she had spoken to me about the Great Lakes, its size, its massiveness. The beauty of Niagara Falls entering into Lake Ontario, the channels connected between these great bodies of water and eventually ending up in the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence river ways, this was the memory I had, I had this geographical picture in my mind. But when I came to Lake Ontario and I would talk to people, people had a different take on it. I was surprised and I did not know how to respond to that.
Unfortunately I think we’ve reached a stage where we have to focus on taking care of our local waterbodies, which is actually a sad statement. I think we, as people living by the Great Lakes, we have a responsibility to take care of these waters because it’s literally our back yard. Canada being in a developed country we have a higher responsibility to set a standard to the rest of the world about our natural resources. It’s not the responsibility of the politicians anymore, I think it’s every individuals responsibility, we need to set this as a fundamental human behaviour to care of the natural resources around us. I know it’s hard to practice but we need to at least approach life in that way. If we all think like that and if we all start acting like that we have a wonderful opportunity to preserve and conserve these beautiful bodies of water which I think in turn will help us all.
I along with a couple of my friends, Loren King and Mauro Campinelli, Janice Barker and Emily Slaney we have started this group called Great Lakes Open Water Adventures. The rationale behind that was we wanted to encourage people in communities by the Great Lakes to be associated with the water. What we have done is created an opportunity to help novice and expert swimmers to get in the lake. The proud moment is I have actually motivated, we have motivated people who are just regular walkers, who have been living in the area for the past 30 or 40 years who have never touched Lake Ontario, have actually jumped in and started hanging out with us in the water.
What we have notice in turn is there was a lot of plastic garbage gets all over the beach, it’s happening all over the beaches all over the world. People have started taking responsibility for that, people who swim with us, involuntarily, they pick up plastic. They make sure it doesn’t get in the lake. People have started taking ownership of these bodies of water. It’s something that has influenced them. The groups objective is to help organizations like Swim Drink Fish Canada, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, swim guide, Great Lakes Trust, these guys are doing some wonderful things to help promote and also to take care of the natural resources. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Great Lakes trust they tightly work together in terms of making changes, influencing at the policy level, as a government and a country we have better responsibility for our natural resources.