ORANGEVILLE, Ontario – The idea came from a school project and 13-year-old competitive swimmer Ryan Hann hopes it will eventually help food banks across Canada.
Hann, a butterflyer with the Orangeville Otters Swim Club, is preparing for the second year of his Will Swim for Food campaign in support of the Orangeville Food Bank.
“I want to help people who are in poverty as much as I can,” said Hann, a Grade 7 student at The Maples Academy. “It’s something I enjoy doing and other people are coming to help me, too. They feel the same way I do.”
Last year, Hann was given a school project to organize a fundraising campaign. He used the knowledge he gained from that assignment and combined it with the need he saw at St. Vincent de Paul’s annual Christmas hampers campaign to come up with the idea for the Will Swim for Food effort.
“Because I am so involved in swimming, I thought we could raise money at the pool somehow and that’s how it started,” said Hann, who practises with the Otters six days a week.
He launched the campaign with a goal of raising $500 and 100 pounds of food, but he was pleasantly surprised at the support shown, when he swam 35 kilometres in one week and raised $4,005 and 300 pounds of food for the food bank.
He will be joined by 11 of his friends on the Otters between Aug. 18-24 with a goal of raising $5,000 and 500 pounds of food while swimming 500 kilometres at the Alder Recreation Centre pool.
“My friends think it’s a pretty cool idea and it’s going to be a lot of fun to do this with all of them,” Hann said. “They all want to do something positive for the community, too.”
“We,” he continued, “will all be swimming 200 laps or five kilometres a day and that works out to a total of 420. We are hoping other swimmers will contribute laps to top it up to 500 kilometres.”
Otters coach Rob Taylor, a former Olympian, has been supportive and has encouraged the young swimmers to embark on the fundraiser. He will also swim some laps to help raise more money.
Hann’s younger sister Lara, also a swimmer, has been selling Laura Secord chocolates to help raise more funds.
“I am amazed by all of the support and it helps give us energy to keep going,” said Hann, who also plays basketball, volleyball and badminton and has begun training for a triathlon.
“We all understand the importance of food and hope our campaign will do some good for our community.”
The Town of Orangeville has donated free pool time to help the swimmers while Olympians Tera Van Beilen and Brittany MacLean have each committed to swimming laps in support. Speedo Canada has also endorsed the team and provided each swimmer with a free training suit to encourage them.
Van Beilen, an account executive and sports marketing coordinator with PVH Canada (which licenses Speedo Canada), said the company is inspired by the efforts of Hann and his young team members.
“It is important for us at Speedo Canada to recognize the charitable efforts of the swim community, especially when there is such an undeniable passion behind the cause like Ryan has with his campaign,” Van Beilen said.
“We’re hoping to continue our support wherever we can for the Will Swim for Food campaign and wish Ryan and his team all the best.”
Team members are: Nicholas Barnes, Alexander Bowen, Clare Bowen, Linnea Cashmore, Rylee Fudge, Noah Halkett, Madyson Hartway, Samuel Pipher-Swyer, Emily Smyth, Sebastian Winegar-Tontegode and Samuel Wood.
They hope to promote the idea to other clubs across Canada next year so more food banks can be helped.
“It would be kind of neat to swim across Canada,” Hann said. “We could do 500 kilometres then another club and another and others until we go all the way across the country.”
Orangeville Food Bank executive director Heather Hayes said the effort of Hann and his team was an “inspiration.”
“Having youth actively engage with our mission Neighbours helping Neighbours and care for our community really builds connections that impact our work through the year,” Hayes said.
“The support of Ryan’s campaign means we can continue to support our neighbours and community members with nutritious foods.”
For more information on how to support the Will Swim for Food team, visit www.willswimforfood.ca.