Marathon swim across the lily pond

“SHE MADE IT! ‘Canada’s Honeybun,’ marathon swimmer Carol Gregory, conquered the chilly waters of UBC’s Lily Pond in three minutes, 37 seconds.”

This was emblazoned on the front page of The Ubyssey in October 1956. The occasion was UBC’s very own epic open water swim — the Lily Pond swim, that is — organized by the student paper and the Pep Club to promote that year’s Homecoming, and staged with loving and ludicrous attention to detail.

The Ubyssey solemnly reported that before Gregory was cleared to swim the whopping 30-foot distance, an “examining physician” inspected a small mole on her back and plied her with hot compresses and swimming grease. When Gregory launched into the water (with the Pep Band blaring a rousing “God Save the Queen”), “coaches” in a rowboat spoon-fed the weary athlete “thin warm gruel” for sustenance.

Reader, she was triumphant. “Now I end the most important chapter in my as-yet young life,” Gregory wrote. “I don’t think I could ever recapture the thrill of yesterday, and so I think I’ll stop swimming for good.”

The swim was over, perhaps, but The Ubyssey imagined the athlete’s circumstances as thrilling indeed. The paper announced that in recognition of her feat, Gregory received $100,000 for the movie rights to her life story, 35 live koala bears with a three-month supply of eucalyptus leaves, and a guitar pick donated by Elvis Presley — prizes, no doubt, worth their weight in gruel.

UBC archieves image.
Photo: UBC Archives, UBC  1.1/2103-2