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Twins tackling 16-hour swim to make waves for mental health

They will attempt to swim 32 kilometres across Georgian Bay; 'We are prepared to literally feel the most discomfort we have ever felt in our entire lives'

Tomorrow, Jake and Josh Burella will set out on the swim of a lifetime, a feat of strength for both body and mind.

For the past six months, the 23-year-old twins from Wasaga Beach have been training to tackle the GB32 — a 32-kilometre open water swim from Christian Island to the Collingwood Terminals — in order to raise money and awareness for youth mental health.

“At this point, we’re ready,” both twins agreed. “Our conditioning is what it is, it’s just a matter of waiting for the right weather.”

The plan was always to embark in August, and a favourable weather forecast was the final factor that decided the date. This week, the twins got the go-ahead from Kevin Johnston, owner of Collingwood Adventure Voyages, who’s offered to be their unofficial guide and navigator for the duration of the swim.

“Georgian Bay is a beast,” said Johnston. “It’s important to have someone on your team who has the appropriate knowledge and equipment.”

Johnston will be trolling along with the twins the entire trek on his 40-foot steel hull providing safety and support, and making sure the swimmers stay in a straight line.

Tomorrow morning, just before the sun starts to rise, the twins will jump in the water at South Beach, Christian Island, and begin their long journey home.

Along with Johnston, their team will consist of fellow Primitive Patterns member Tate Funston and close friend Josh Gratton, who will be in charge of loading the swimmers with food, fuel and motivation along the way.

“Loading our body properly is paramount,” said Jake. “We have to be consistent with it the whole way through, even if we don’t feel like we need it.”

Logistically, that will entail consuming some combination of bone broth, coconut oil, a premixed super starch, and a whole lot of bananas every 20 minutes — approximately once a kilometre — carefully coordinated to keep the brothers hydrated and with high energy levels the whole way through.

Jake and Josh will also cover their bare backs with zinc to keep them safe from the sun, and lather their neck, chest and shoulders in vaseline for warmth in the water. They won't be wearing wetsuits for the swim.

“It’s been a combination of a lot of research, and just knowing what works best for us,” said Josh. “We are making sure to control any variable that we can control.”

“And then anything we can’t control, we will just hope for the best,” said Jake.

The twins expect the trek to take them anywhere between 12-16 hours, hoping to arrive at the Collingwood Terminals sometime Friday afternoon or early evening.

The twins completed their first long-distance swim in the summer of 2018. In the weeks following, neither Jake nor Josh thought they would ever attempt anything like it again, but it didn’t take long for inklings of another endurance swim to surface in their minds. They decided to double it.

“You train so hard and there is so much anticipation, it gives you this feeling you can’t really get anywhere else in your life. This high, this feeling of competing against yourself, and the motivation and the reward when you are done… Once you experience it, you want to keep chasing it,” said Jake.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made undertaking the GB32 all the more challenging. Their training plan included lap swimming in indoor pools, all of which shut down for the pandemic. 

But it only enticed the brothers more.

“There was a moment earlier this year, when COVID first started, that we seriously debated if it was even possible,” said Jake. “It brought on a whole other layer that made it that much more difficult.”

“And that much more important,” added Josh. “We wanted to give people something they could really rally behind right now.”

Mental health has always been a cause close to their heart, so the brothers committed to the swim as a way to raise funds for youth mental health. Donations will be directed to with a promise that the money will be filtered directly back into programs in South Georgian Bay.

“Endurance swimming correlates so well with mental health… There is just something about swimming that brings that out. It’s hard to explain,” said Josh.

“If you think about what so much of the population struggles with every day, for months on end... We thought we could give this swim a shot, it’s just one day,” Jake added.

Donations for the duo’s daunting swim have already reached almost $13,000. They swim tomorrow.

“At this point, there is nothing else we can do physically. If we aren’t ready now, then we never will be,” said Jake.

Josh agreed. “The biggest thing now is just raising as much money as possible.”

The Burellas have been training in the Bay since May, acclimatizing their body to the open water and building up stamina. Two weeks ago, they completed a 20-kilometre training swim, which took them a total of seven hours.

This week, they are focused on eating properly, sleeping enough and mentally preparing for the beast of a battle they are about to face.

“We aren’t going into this hoping it goes well the entire time. We are prepared to literally feel the most discomfort we have ever felt in our entire lives,” said Josh.

“We’ve come to terms with the fact that that will happen, so we are just thinking, how long can we go before we hit that point?” he continued.

While the anticipation of the swim is all-consuming, their voices were calm and their energy focused. Their eyes are on the finish line.

“At the end of the day, we know our bodies better than anybody. We’ve set this goal for ourselves because we feel it is something we are capable of doing,” said Jake.

“Strap your work boots on, pack a lunch bag, because it’s just a long workday,” said Josh. “Regardless of what happens, we’re in this together.”

To learn more about the GB32 or to donate, visit the GB32 fundraising page.

Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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