Perhaps it was something in the water that drew him to it. At the young age of 16, he turned professional, becoming one of the world’s greatest professional marathon swimmers in the world.
At 18, he won the World Marathon Championship, his first of four wins in the Canadian National Exposition (CNE), beating 46 other world class competitors in this 15 mile Lake Ontario race. That same year he received the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete of the year. Swimming for the Lake Shore Swim Club and coached by the famed Gus Ryder, he made over $150,000.00 in prize money from 1949 to 1967, a consistent winner of marathon races.
He was known for his ability to swim in cold water, once going 32 miles in 18 hours with water temperatures ranging between 48 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit, the only finisher in the 1955 Lake Ontario CNE Swim. In 1956, he swam 11 hours 35 minutes crossing the Straits of Juan de Fuca between Washington State and Vancouver Island, where the water temperature is 48 degrees.
Between 1949 and 1954, Cliff Lumsdon was the undisputed world professional marathon swimming champion, winning a total of five Marathon World Championships. From 1954 to 1964, he swam ten 23 mile swims around Atlantic City, finishing first or second in most of them. His swimming created a big chested, burly man who was well liked by everyone.
His wife Joan said that he hated to swim alone – he loved to race. He trained in the Credit River with his close friend Marilyn Bell, the first swimmer to cross Lake Ontario.
As a 30 year employee of the City of Etobicoke Recreation Department, he taught thousands of children to swim, including his daughter Kim, who swam across Lake Ontario herself in 1976.
He died young at age 60, but is remembered as a fierce, hard-to-beat competitor, yet a stellar human being and a gentle man.