ROBERVAL | At five years old, he “hated” water. At 16, he was a “poor swimmer”. And today, at 26, he will cross Lac Saint-Jean in a tough peloton. No, William Racine is not shy.
The Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean returns this year in its usual format. It had been canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and only three Quebec swimmers had taken part in the reduced format race in 2021.
This return to normal finally allows William Racine, an athlete from Beauport, to try his luck, he who had gotten into the idea of participating in one of the most prestigious open water swimming races on the planet barely three years ago.
The course of the young man of 26 years is surprising. Let's just say he's gone a long way. From afar.
“When I was young, I wasn’t really athletic. I hated water. I was really afraid of the lakes,” he confides, installed in the stands where the spectators will cheer the swimmers this afternoon in Roberval.
He learns on YouTube
Fortunately, his parents had the good idea to introduce him to water skiing at the family chalet on a lake in Ste-Aurélie, in Beauce, close to the American border.
Experience allows get rid of his fear of water, but he is far from feeling like a fish there.
“I never really swam until 2016. I could float, I could move , but I was a poor swimmer. At the Military College, I had a compulsory swimming course. I managed to pass it thanks to my endurance. »
It wasn't until 2018 that he signed up for an IronMan triathlon “on a whim.” He had no choice but to take up swimming seriously.
“I used to go to the municipal swimming pool quite a bit all the time,” he recalls.
< p>Without a coach, he learns the techniques on YouTube and the internet.
“I am self-taught,” he admits.
Hard work has paid off.
“I developed a great passion for swimming. Most triathletes aren't too fond of water. They just want to survive. I like that. »
A stopwatch to beat
William Racine knows very well that he will not be on the podium at the end of his working day. Never has he swum so long. But that's nothing to worry the soldier, a member of the third Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment. He has seen others.
“I know I have enough stamina to cross. The only thing that might affect me is that I won't be fast enough. »
Its main rival thus risks being the stopwatch. He will have two hours, once the winner hits the finish plate, to complete his race. He warns that we will have to go get him in the lake before he gives up his arms.
“I will give everything to get there. There's no way I'm giving up. Voluntary surrender is not an option,” he says convincingly.
Arthritis? So what ?
Despite being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2018, William Racine intends to be on the starting line for other endurance events in the future. He has no intention of letting his illness, which causes pain in his spine, pelvis and joints, stop him.
“I have arthritis, so what? I am able to train. I don't think it's something that should prevent me from having a sporting career and aiming high. »
The little boy who hated the water will enter the waters of the lake on Saturday morning, sure to overcome this challenge he set himself a few years ago.
“There is no no more fear of water”, he swears.
And there is no doubt that he will demonstrate it again on Saturday morning.
A dream to achieve where it all began for Émilie Tremblay
Émilie Tremblay will face the 32 kilometers separating Péribonka from Roberval for the very first time. The swimmer from Saguenay has the firm intention of ending her workday by touching the finish plate.
A young swimmer from Saguenay who fell in love with open water swimming in the bay of Roberval is finally enjoying her dream, as she will be undertaking her very first crossing of Lac Saint-Jean on Saturday morning.
Sitting at a table in Place de la Traversée, Émilie Tremblay smiles when we talk about the challenge she will face in a few hours. The young woman has long dreamed of it and is delighted to see that it will take shape where it all began for her.
“It was an open water swimming camp. I really liked that. […] I thought it was good to swim in conditions that were not always easy,” says the student, who will begin studies in physiotherapy this fall at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.
Her experience swimming in open water reminded him of family vacations on the American East Coast. Fond memories of Wildwood and Virginia Beach, where she “was always comfortable in the water, in the waves and in the cold water”.
“Swimming in open water reminds me of all that,” says the young athlete.
Her biggest challenge
With a lot of confidence, but also a little naive, she will launch an assault on the lake on Saturday morning, in Péribonka.
“I don't seem to realize that tomorrow I'm going to swim 32 km. The greatest distance I have swum is 16 km. […] It's still a step more.
“I feel like I'm ready. And I feel like I just can't wait to swim, she continues. I just want to do it for fun. »
Precisely, it will be a lot of fun during the interview. That of realizing her dream, of course, but that of doing it in the company of those she loves.
Family, friends and loved ones will obviously be in the stands shouting to encourage her. Her father, Nicolas Tremblay, a volunteer for the event, will be at the helm of a boat with Émilie's lover and the swimmer's brother.
“A family activity”
“It's more of a festive and family event. It's less focused on me. It's not like a competition to perform. It’s almost like a family activity,” she laughs.
Émilie Tremblay is aware that she will not teach more experienced swimmers. One of the favorites of the day, the Argentine Pilar Geijo, had already won two victories at the Traversée, while the Saguenéenne had not yet tasted swimming in open water.
Complete the race will be his victory. ” Oh yes ! she exclaims.
“Even the time limit is going to be a little tight. They can let us finish if we exceed [the time], but we are not classified. »
The organizers of the Traversée are advised. She has no intention of giving up.
“Very tough” peloton
The 68th edition of the Traversée internationale du lac Saint-Jean will be of high caliber for its return to normal.
Despite the withdrawal this week of the 2019 champion, the Dutchman Marcel Schouten, the peloton brings together the cream of the crop.
14 swimmers will start from Péribonka on Saturday morning, unlike the 26 who are usually in the race. “But it's 14 of quality,” warns the DG of the International Crossing of Lac Saint-Jean, Jérémy Bonneau. The Italian Edoardo Stochino, champion in 2018, as well as veterans Damian Blaum (Argentina) and Evgeny Pop Acev (Macedonia) should put on a good show. Among the women, Pilar Geijo (Argentina), a regular on the podium for more than ten years, will also be there.
“The level is very high among the men and also very high among the women. […] We are very happy with the caliber that there will be in the waters of Lac Saint-Jean,” says Mr. Bonneau.
Finally fair scholarships
The decision of the Traversée organization to abandon the International Swimming Federation was the right one according to Jérémy Bonneau.
The event is now part of the Ultramarathon Swim Series organized by the World Open Water Swimming Association.
For ordinary mortals, the changes will be invisible, but for the Traversée team, this translates into significant gains, starting with equity in scholarships for men and women. Athlete scholarships have thus been increased from US$40,000 to US$55,000. “FINA asked us to give 60% of the scholarships to men and 40% to women, but this year, we are happy to arrive with fair scholarships. […] It's crazy that in 2022 it was still like that,” said Mr. Bonneau.
“[…] FINA was no longer the right vehicle to promote open water swimming. […] We have to build a new circuit that will be attractive to swimmers,” he says.
A race that has never been in danger
Many sporting events have been shaken by the pandemic. Do not add the Traversée du lac Saint-Jean to this long list.
The event has never been in danger even if it was canceled in 2020 and held in a very reduced format last year.
“It's exceptional! At the start of the pandemic, it was our partners who contacted us to tell us that they would continue to support the event because it is important to them. We are pampered”, underlines Jérémy Bonneau.