'I never gave myself the option to quit': London swimmer crosses Lake Ontario to help save lives

Jillian Best was back on dry land Thursday, but she still hadn’t come down from the high of what she accomplished on the water.

“Positively overwhelmed with the support and the love that has come my way,” said the marathon swimmer and organ transplant recipent.

After setting out at 11 p.m. Tuesday from Niagara, the 34-year-old reached Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto just before six o'clock Wednesday evening, swimming 52 kilometres across Lake Ontario.

She told media and the crowd of supporters she never had any doubts. “I never gave myself the option to quit. I told myself I wasn't going to stop for any reason of my own, but everybody helping me along the way was really helpful.”

On the boat, but at her side every stroke of the way, was her husband Zack Best.

“It was amazing. I’m proud to be there, and proud of her. It was a great camaraderie we had with all 13 people on the boat. Everybody contributed, and it was an amazing experience.”

Best made the swim to raise money for her foundation, ‘Move for Life,’ which is dedicated to reducing the wait list for organ transplants.

Her mother is a two-time liver transplant survivor, and she herself had a liver transplant in 2015. She said not only did having a transplant make her a better person, but it also gave her the mental toughness to complete her marathon swim.

“There were some struggles and moments when I thought I may not survive, but I overcame that. Obviously not alone, I needed a transplant to do that, but...I know that I’ve gone through rough times for much longer than 18 hours. And so I kept that in mind. It was just one day.”

The swim has so far raised nearly $130,000 between sponsors and an online crowd-funding campaign.  All funds will go towards the purchase of new equipment for the London Health Sciences Centre Multi-transplant Organ Unit.

“I’ve seen it where people don’t make it to have the transplant,” said Best. “They die while they’re waiting because there’s such a shortage. So my passion is towards finding a way to reduce the waits for transplants, so that every one in need of an organ transplant can receive one.”