With his 40th birthday on the horizon, Jeff Burns wanted to do something special to mark the milestone.
The St. Andrews, Antigonish County native – now living and working in neighbouring St. Mary’s – decided he wanted to, literally and figuratively, make a splash.
On a Sunday during the dog days of summer (Aug. 18), Burns completed his second BIG SWIM, which serves as a fundraiser for the renowned Brigadoon Village.
“It wasn’t quite the same,” he said of his first time tackling the challenge.
In 2016, because of rough seas in the Northumberland Strait, swimmers were re-routed to Murray Beach in New Brunswick.
Although he stroked for three-and-a-half hours, covering 13 kilometres, Burns was not satisfied.
Skip ahead three years, he decided to complete his unfinished business. In early 2019, Burns started training for the physically taxing fundraiser, one where participants swim from N.B. to P.E.I. along the Confederation Bridge, which spans the Northumberland Strait and connects the two Maritime Provinces.
During the winter months, Burns made the hour-or-so drive from St. Mary’s to the St. F.X. Alumni Aquatic Centre – twice a week – for 90-minute workouts.
“Any pool I was near,” he said, with a chuckle, noting he completed training sessions in places such as Truro and Cole Harbour.
By the spring and into the summer, Burns moved outdoors, with Lochiel Lake and other bodies of water serving as his training ground.
Along with putting in the watery mileage, another key to making his BIG SWIM bucket list item happen was finding the person who would accompany him.
Swimmers tackle the challenge with a kayaker by their side, a person who navigates the route for the pair, while also ensuring food breaks and such are taken at the appropriate times.
That’s where Mandy Osmond came in – a native of Newfoundland now living in St. Mary’s. The friends met during a winter curling match, when Burns learned she loved kayaking.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her,” he said.
Not surprisingly, considering the challenges the BIG SWIM offers – physical and otherwise, there were twists and turns for the duo on that day.
Burns recalled thinking – at between eight to 11 kilometres into the swim – the signpost Confederation Bridge seemed to be further and further away, as the pull of the current wreaked havoc for participants.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” the former Antigonish Aquanaut and Dalhousie Tiger varsity swimmer said.
As Burns continued, there was the changing tide in the already demanding waters of the Northumberland Strait; not to mention a right upper arm injury that impeded his strokes.
“It worked,” he said of an adjustment he made in his breathing, changing to taking one every three strokes.
Burns also praised Osmond for “ferrying” him to the end as she piloted her kayak.
“It wasn’t a straight line to the finish,” he noted of the more than six-hour journey.
Burns said the pair’s stubbornness was a key to them reaching their goal.
“I knew I could do it and we weren’t going to quit,” he added.
When they reached the beach, the friends shared a huge hug.
“I was so grateful,” Burns said.
Osmond, who had never taken on such a role, described it as a “great accomplishment.”
“It was an awesome feeling,” she said.
Along with the physical challenge that he embraced, Burns drew inspiration to tackle the BIG SWIM, once again, by the beneficiary of the fundraiser.
“My family had the privilege of attending one of these great camps on two occasions, both amazing experiences,” he said of the Aylesford Lake, Annapolis Valley location.
“I then had the opportunity to explore the facility, along with Mandy and various other swimmers and kayakers, this past June.”
Brigadoon Village provides camping experiences for children and youth with a chronic illness, chronic condition or special need.
“It touches so many people,” Burns said.
One of those campers, provided the swimmer with an unforgettable keepsake.
“You are truly and amazing person for helping a camper come to camp,” the 13-year-old printed in bright red letters in a Brigadoon thank-you card.
She also echoed a sentiment shared by Burns and countless others.
“Brigadoon is such an amazing place,” she wrote.
The BIG SWIM, along with the BIG RIDE and BIG CHILL, are endurance fundraising events for Brigadoon Village that are spearheaded by GIVETOLIVE.
More information on GIVETOLIVE can be found at givetolive.ca.
In 2016, Burns raised more than $2,300 for Brigadoon Village. This year, he has eclipsed the $2,200 mark, but he has not reached his fundraising goal.
“My dream goal is $2,600, which will send two deserving kids to camp,” he said, noting approximately $1,300 covers the costs for one camper.
Income tax receipts will be issued for donations of $20, or more.
Donations, which will be accepted until October 31, can be made to Burns’ effort at bccs.convio.net/goto/burnsjf.