Matt Bonin’s multiple sclerosis swim of North Channel ends, raises more than $20,600

Swimmer Matt Bonin is one happy distance swimmer. photo by Jess McShane

by Diane Sims

Editor’s Note: When journalist Diane Sims learned of Matthieu Bonin’s plans to swim around Manitoulin Island this summer to raise awareness for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) she leapt at the opportunity to report on Mr. Bonin’s motivation and progress as she was diagnosed with MS at age 17.

LITTLE CURRENT—With a last tired, but mighty stroke, Matthieu Bonin’s Manitoulin Island swim for Multiple Sclerosis ended at 4:17 p.m. July 17 at the Harbor Vue Marina in Little Current where he had begun his journey July 1 to increase awareness of the debilitating neurological disease and to raise funds into finding a cure.

“He’s happy to be done!” laughed Jess McShane, a photographer aboard Matt’s accompanying Zodiac boat over a quick telephone call as everyone was climbing into vehicles heading home to Sudbury and points beyond.

His last day of 26 kilometres stretched body and soul but he was determined “to bring it home.” And with that, he’s raised $20,602.10 for the MS Society of Canada.

“Most of the day was perfectly calm but then Matt was fighting some heavy cross-currents closer to the swing bridge,” Ms. McShane added.

“A world without MS is achievable. The MS Society of Canada is inspired and grateful to Matthieu Bonin’s efforts. On behalf of the 90,000 Canadians living with MS, we thank Matthieu,” stressed Heather Saba, senior director, community, Central Canada.

Although Matt was too sleepy to speak with me Sunday evening I spoke with Karlie Greatrex of Elliot’s Restaurant who served Matt and crew a celebratory meal before they headed home.

“He seemed enthusiastic and really pleased with what he’d achieved,” recalled Ms. Greatrex, adding, “he was really exhausted but in very good spirits.”

And what did the swimmer enjoy his first meal ashore?

“Caesar salad, fried chicken and an iced tea,” Ms. Greatrex laughed!

Matt set out to swim the circumference, 350 kilometres, of the Island. Indeed, he made it through four-to-six-foot waves, accomplishing 47 kilometres in the first four days. Then after rounding the large peninsula of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Matt hit a wall of 45F Lake Huron water.

He suffered mild hypothermia that occurs when the body is exposed to water temperatures 40F and below. With an exhausted and worried crew Matt announced on Facebook he was abandoning the swim. I also took that announcement hard because I have end-stage MS and cheered him on in my heart.

However, as Matt wrote on Facebook “Mother Nature had spoken” and it wasn’t the year, or perhaps the month, to take Lake Huron head on.

Yet Matt has much of which to be proud. After a few days of rest, relaxation and good nourishment he and the crew (primarily composed of Christine Arsenault, Mélanie Boyer, Greg Erickson and Rick McLean), regrouped and relaunched July 11 from the Meldrum Bay marina. This was so Matt could swim the North Channel back to Little Current with its primarily westerly winds and warmer water temperatures. This would tack on another 104 kilometres.

Matt stressed throughout our many messages, interviews and emails how overwhelmed he and the crew were at the heartfelt kindnesses of Islanders and especially the First Nations communities from Wiikwemkoong to M’Chigeeng to Zhiibaahaasing.

“I am grateful to the wonderful people of Wiikwemkoong. I owe my life to their compassion, generosity and hospitality. This is a beautiful land with beautiful people,” he said after first stopping the journey there.

Each day Matt would thoughtfully dedicate the swim to someone he had met along his Island journey. Matt contacted me early the morning of his swim from Zhiibaahaasing to Barrie Island saying he was dedicating it to me. I was touched to tears.

Miigwetch Matt for helping all of us with MS.

(Donations can still be made to the MS Society of Canada through the website msmanitoulinswim.com or cheques can be mailed to Sandy Stretch, #109, 884 Regent St., Sudbury, Ont. P3E 6C7.)