Burns swims Northumberland Strait for charity

Sherbrooke newcomer Osmond becomes kayak partner

By Helen Murphy    

ST. MARY’S — Some people walk or run for charity. Some cycle to fundraise. Jeff Burns of St. Mary’s River went a step further in terms of the physical challenge when he decided to swim the Northumberland Strait to raise money for a deserving children’s charity.

Burns, from St. Mary’s River, battled against the currents and tides to swim from N.B. to P.E.I. via the Northumberland Strait and alongside Confederation Bridge, in what is known as The Big Swim.

Accompanied by kayaker Mandy Osmond — a newcomer to Sherbrooke from Newfoundland — Burns completed the journey in just over six hours, travelling close to 10 nautical miles (18.2 kilometres).

“Having been a competitive and recreational swimmer for most of my life, with the Antigonish Aquanauts and Dalhousie Tigers Varsity Team, and being drawn to endurance challenges, I first completed The Big Swim in 2016,” Burns told The Journal. Unfortunately, that year it had to be re-routed to Murray Beach N.B. due to rough seas in the Strait en route to The Island, and Burns swam roughly 13 kilometres in about three and a half hours.

“I chose to wait to reattempt the challenge this year, since I will turn the big 4-0 in October.”

Burns needed a kayak partner for the swim and is grateful to have found her while curling at the RecPlex last winter.

Mandy Osmond, who moved to St. Mary’s for work last year, made a point of getting active in her new home community, and that included curling.

“We needed a spare one night and that’s when Jeff came in. We got to talking and I told him I like to kayak in the summer,” she said during an interview with the pair on Monday.

Osmond had not heard of The Big Swim but decided to take on the challenge of helping Burns succeed in his swim. The two became friends and started training together in May.

Burns’ training started earlier, in the pool in Antigonish. In January he would train for 60 to 90 minutes twice a week, increasing the pace to three times a week in February.

He secured his spot in this year’s event by being early to rise on January 1, when registration opened. For safety reasons, only 50 swimmers are accepted.

Osmond had to upgrade to a sea kayak and take a kayak course to meet event requirements. Her job included managing the currents to guide Burns and time his stops for rest and food.

“There are a lot of things on your mind,” she said.

This incredible physical challenge helps support children who attend the 13 summer camps and three family camp programs at Brigadoon Village in Aylesford.

“My family had the privilege of attending one of these great camps on two occasions, both amazing experiences,” said Burns. “I then had the opportunity to explore the facility, along with Mandy and various other swimmers and kayakers, this past June.”

The mission of Brigadoon Village to help “Atlantic Canadian children and youth living with health conditions and other life challenges reach their full potential through experiential learning, meaningful connections and exceptional fun.”

This mission resonates with Burns, who works at a day program for adults with developmental disabilities.

To date, Burns has raised $2,185 for the charity. Donations can still be made at http://bccs.convio.net/goto/burnsjf.

Burns said he’s happy to check the swim off his bucket list. Osmond only added it to her list in January, but she shares his sense of accomplishment in having completed the challenge.