Roach-Leuszler, Winnie

Winnie Roach-Leuszler, swimmer (b at Port Credit, Ont 3 Feb. 1926; d at Surrey, BC 1 May 2004). Leuszler was the first Canadian to swim the English Channel. As a child she excelled in a wide range of sports both on land and in water but swimming soon emerged as her special talent. At age nine she won her first long-distance swimming medal at a competition on the Credit River and at age eleven, competing against a much older field, she placed seventh in the CNE one-mile senior women's championship. Later that year she captured the Ontario Championship. In 1944 Leuszler was the first Canadian to win the Junior International Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 2.5 mile long-distance Swim Championship at Clementon Lake Park, New Jersey.

As a young adult, Leuszler combined a successful swimming career with the demands of family. In 1946 she married Canadian Air Force Private Morris Leuszler. The following year she placed second in the five-mile World Championship swim race in Toronto, only three months after her first child was born. In 1948 she placed second in a five-mile World Championship swim when she was four months pregnant with her second child.

At age 25 and as the mother of three young children, Leuszler successfully swam the English Channel. The Daily Mail of London, England, invited the top-20 distance swimmers from around the world to participate in a cross-channel swim from France to England. Leuszler welcomed the challenge. The task was daunting: the water temperature was a brisk 9ºC and Channel waves were reaching almost four metres in height that day. On 16 August 1951, Leuszler crossed the Channel in 13 hours and 25 minutes.

Leuszler continued her swimming career after the Channel swim, competing in long-distance events and coaching both in Canada and France. In 1962 she won the French long-distance championship.

In 1996 Leuszler was inducted into the Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame for her achievements in swimming and softball while serving with the Canadian Women's Army Corps during the Second World War. In 1999 she was inducted into the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame and received the order of Ontario, and in June 2000 her hometown inducted her into the Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame. Leuszler's heroic swim was an inspiration to others, including Marilyn Bell, who followed in her footsteps in 1955. She passed away at age 78 from diabetic complications.