2020 Sun City Swim - Big Announcement Forthcoming and Wil’s 2019 Swim With The Fishes Sun City Swim Fundraiser for OSPCA Orillia Animal Centre

Wil Wegman

SPECIAL NOTE: Wil sits on the organizing committee for the 2020 Sun City Swim, originally scheduled for Aug. 22nd. He hints that even though the event with a large public gathering on the 22nd is unlikely to happen – something is in the works for swimmers to still enjoy time in the water swimming to raise funds for the local Animal Control in Orillia. Stay tuned for details which Wil will post here and on his social media channels. For now … please enjoy this article on Wil’s 2019 Sun City Swim:  

Early in 2019 I was very disappointed to hear the news that the Simcoe Muskoka Child Advocacy Centre would no longer be running the annual Sun City Swim in Orillia.  For the past six years I had competed in this four kilometre charity swim across one of my favorite fishing holes - Lake Couchiching. All proceeds raised by swimmers participating went directly to this centre to help treat abused kids.  My heart was ‘into’ this worthwhile cause’ big time and my annual “Wil’s Swim With The Fishes” fundraiser, targeting the angling community I am so closely tied with, looked like it was just not going to happen.  Then, thanks in large part to efforts by the swim’s founder … Brenda Jenkins who started the swim 27 years ago (and has swam every one of them since), staff and volunteers from the OSPCA’s Orillia Animal Centre agreed to take on the task of running the 2019 Sun City Swim.  Past participants and I were very appreciative the swim would still run thanks to the Centre and their dedicated volunteers!

My yearlong training for this one event at my local pool in Bradford immediately took on its regular added intensity. Unlike other years however when I would try to build up endurance by swimming long distances in the lap pool at a steady pace; I did the exact opposite. In 2019 I would try something entirely new and spend my typical week-day ½ hour in the pool swimming at a much quicker pace. I’d do 1km sprints each day and more on weekends … if I wasn’t fishining!

Yes, I still had my priorities intact!   I got the idea of increasing endurance by doing two ½ k sprints from Melanie Shapiera – a fitness buff and friend who does running sprints for the same reason and swore they work wonders.   I wasn’t 100% convinced it would work for swimming too … but it was something refreshingly new and added excitement to my sometimes stale daily swimming routine.

Slow Start to Fundraising:
When I first posted on Social Media that the Sun City Swim was on and that my “Wil’s Swim with the Fishes” fundraiser would now be raising money for their new charity – the local animal shelter in Orillia, contributions were few and far between.
I was concerned that folks were not getting behind this charity like they did for the last one – and truth be told, I understood and respected anyone who decided to take a pass on contributing this year.  

I discussed my concerns with Malerie Driscoll – a good friend who swam my first Sun City Swim with me six years earlier and she flat-out tried to set me straight. “Just be patient Wil and realize a big part of why people – especially all your colleagues and fishing friends contribute, is because of you  … and they can relate to your swim with the fishes fundraiser.” That humbling realization helped ease my mind, and not long after on-line contributions began pouring in mostly by fellow anglers but also friends, family, MNRF coworkers and even complete strangers!  My goal of $2,000 was achieved the week of August 5th – 5 days before the swim.  Still donations kept coming. The day before the swim I did a piece for CTV Barrie news up on Lake Couchiching promoting the swim that can still be seen here:  https://barrie.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1765254

That same night after that CTV bit aired I received another contribution completely out of the blue – an overly generous $500 contribution from a good friend who spends more time working on Lake Simcoe than most anglers I know do fishing it. That and a couple more donations brought me just a tad under $3,000 for total monies raised directly for the Animal Centre … my most successful fundraiser ever!

Breakdown of support for Wil’s Swim With the Fishes:
2013 = $2,025; 2014 = $995; 2015 = $1,910; 2016 = $1,300; 2017 = $1,700 2018 = $2,866 2019 = $2, 905 Total= $13,701

Swim Day:
This year I was thrilled that my cousin Mark Van Beausekom of Toronto was swimming his first ever cross-lake swim.  We were both more than ready but a little apprehensive at the strong headwinds that faced us. My brother Paul once again served as my spotter in our kayak alongside me. During the plentiful shallow water portions of the lake crossing, I kept an eye open for various fish species and did see some perch and bass … but with the added chop, it was a little more challenging than other years.  

It generally takes me one and a half hours to cross the lake with my best time coming last year under ideal conditions, wearing a new wetsuit and increased training beforehand …  when I knocked almost 7 minutes off my previous Personal Best with a time of just over 1 hour and 20 minutes to swim the four kilometer distance.

This year though, I knew those headwinds would slow me down – and they did but almost as bad was my continual failure to swim straight and true - given a much weaker left arm stroke than right. The result was that I once again had to swim extra distances to get back on track… despite an excellent job by my spotter and Brother Paul in his kayak to try and make me swim straight. 

Still … I was very satisfied that despite the wind, my endurance and stamina level near the finish line was just as good, if not better than last year and other years … a testament (for me anyway) that the new 1 km sprint-training regime had indeed worked for swimming as well as running. My ‘spaghetti noodle arms’ however were a different story and were more sore than ever from fighting the wind, so arm strength is something I’ll have to work on. Until then … I’d like to thank all 43 contributors to my Swim with The Fishes campaign and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Swim Highlights Courtesy of the Orillia SPCA

“On August 10, 23 swimmers took the plunge in support of the Ontario SPCA Orillia Animal Centre, helping raise over $10,000 in the 28th Annual Orillia Sun City Swim fundraiser.


The swimmers started at the Fern Resort and were cheered on as they made their way towards the finish line at the Port of Orillia, where each swimmer was presented with a medal and a towel to dry off and warm up.

The first adult to cross the finish line was Derrick MacKenzie in a remarkable time of 1:10:37 (winning a beautiful handmade Muskoka Chair), with Katie Heckendorn taking top prize in the youth category in a time of 1:32:19.

The highest fundraiser at the event as reported by the organizers, with his Swim with the Fishes campaign was Wil Wegman, with a time of 1:31:15 and bringing in $2,905 for the animal center. (He won a pair of Mariposa Folk Festival tickets for the 2nd year in a row.) Jackson Denne raised $250 in the youth fundraising category. Long-time volunteers Susan Caracciolo and Dennis Gill were also honored”.


Left Photo: Wil had the honor of presenting the finish line towel to Brenda Jenkins- founder of the swim as she came out of the water victorious at successfully making it all the way across once again..
Right Photo: Wil and his younger brother Paul- who serves as his safety spotter


Although Wil has caught muskie before in Lake Couchiching and has stocked thousands into adjoining Lake Simcoe, he did not see any during his swim with the fishes.

“Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a great success,” says Carol Beard, Manager, Ontario SPCA Orillia Animal Centre. “Completing the swim is an impressive accomplishment and funds raised give homeless, abused and neglected animals the second chance they deserve. We look forward to working on the 2020 Orillia Sun City Swim and plan to make it an even bigger splash!”

For more information and to register, visit ontariospca.ca/Orillia

- 30 -

Wil Wegman is an award winning freelance Outdoor Writer and member of the Canadian Angler Hall of Fame. He is the Hooked on Fishing columnist for Lake Simcoe Living Magazine and for 25 years taught a bass fishing course at various campuses of Seneca, Georgian and Fleming Colleges. For their final exam, his students would fish a Catch and Release Tournament on Lake Couchiching, where Wegman himself has fished hundreds of tournaments over the years.