Jillian Best is proud to have her name commemorated as the first recipient of an organ donation and 66th person overall to swim across Lake Ontario.
“It’s a real honour,” Best said with a big smile on Sunday morning.
“Everybody’s real supportive and it’s exciting to have my name on a piece of history.”
On Sunday, people gathered in Queen's Royal Park around the lakeside plaque commemorating successful swims across Lake Ontario to see the newest additions unveiled.
The three new names were Jillian Best, Juan Gabriel Acosta and Robert McGlashan.
McGlashan, a lawyer from Toronto, swam from Oakville to Port Dalhousie in August, wasn’t there. But Best and Acosta were on hand for the commemoration and to talk about their motivations for the arduous undertaking.
Best made history as the first organ transplant recipient to conquer the lake. Raising awareness about organ transplants was her real goal, though.
“Our mission is to reduce the waitlist for an organ transplant,” Best said.
“Attaching a swim like this to a cause that means so much to me made it so much bigger.”
Best is participating in the Move for Life Foundation’s 1,600-kilometre relay next year to again boost awareness about organ transplants in Ontario, she said.
She received a liver transplant six years ago and now, “I’m better than ever. Happier, stronger and overall I have a better life.”
Best said she grew up swimming in pools but got involved in competitive swimming after her transplant.
“It was the World Transplant Games that led me back to swimming and it was a big part of my recovery,” she said.
The games have been held since the 1970s and offer a competitive field for people who are alive thanks to organ transplants, the organization's website says.
More than 70 countries participate in the games. A summer games is held every two years with winter games occurring during the interval.
Best competed in the World Transplant Games in 2019 and set several records in the categories she participated in.
She hopes to do more long-distance swims in the future, saying she is particularly drawn to an open ocean swim.
But, since Best lives in London, Ont., she doesn’t have an ocean to train in.
“To do all the Great Lakes would be really cool,” she said.
Best trained extensively in Lake Erie for her Lake Ontario swim and suspects that shallow body of water might be her next undertaking. Except she has a soft spot for Lake Huron.
“It’s so beautiful. Everyday that I swam in Lake Huron it was clear and you could see the bottom,” she said.
Juan Gabriel Acosta is a cardiologist in Hamilton and his swim aimed to raise awareness for autism, something that strikes a personal chord in Acosta’s life.
Acosta has two nephews with autism. When one of them was 17, he died by suicide.
“He suffered bullying and he had a really tough life,” Acosta said.
“I was just trying to gather funds to see if we could improve the quality of life for youth with autism.”
He saw the swim as a way to do something good out of the pain of losing his nephew.
“This was really big for me and my family. We’re trying to use the fundraiser to turn it into something positive,” he said.
“(We want to) help other people that may be going through what (my nephew) was going through.”
Acosta held a small figurine to symbolize the nephew which spurred on his swim across Lake Ontario.
Donations for Acosta’s cause can be made at aguaforautism.com.
To support Best’s work for organ donations, go to moveforlifefoundation.com/.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report