Jason Kloss’s life has been landmarked by ultra swims. As a young child, he watched his grandfather swim the 65 km across Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada—an experience that he still carries today. It would inspire him to take up swimming in his youth and, eventually, complete the same 65 km lake crossing at the age of 24. The 26 hour feat was a turning point in his life. Not only was he able to share something incredibly special with his grandfather, but, thanks to the swim, he secured a new career and met his eventual wife. Kloss then lost touch with swimming as his life blossomed in other directions. He became a father and launched his career but, after the pandemic and the loss of his grandfather to dementia, Kloss was pulled back to the water to mark a new time in his life. With the target of swimming the 51 km across Lake Ontario, this ultra swim marks a new phase in Kloss’s life that centers on the importance of mental health.
Kloss shares how he approaches his goals, how he stays motivated, and how mental health underpins it all. Whether you’ve always wanted to try an ultra or you’re just trying to get out the door, even if your goals aren’t in the water, Kloss’s ultra swimming insight is a roadmap for everyday empowerment.
1. You Don’t Need Permission
Kloss’s first solo ultra swim was across Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, repeating the same swim he had watched his grandfather many years earlier. Kloss had just finished his studies but was struggling to find work and becoming frustrated. “Everybody kept saying ‘you don't have experience,’ ‘you need experience,’ ‘you don't have the right education’. It made me think about what I can do that I don't need somebody else’s permission or acceptance to be able to do. I was like, hey, I've always wanted to swim across Lake Huron, let’s start training.” Kloss decided to take control of his situation, got a gym membership, and “quietly” got back into the pool after almost a 10 year hiatus from swimming.
Not only did Kloss go on to complete his swim and successfully raise $22,000 for charity, but it proved to be a breakthrough moment in his life. “I got my first big job because I swam across the lake because somebody was like, if he can do that, he can do anything,” Kloss says. Not only did he get a job, but he also met his wife through the swim and they now have a 5 year old daughter together.“Everything was linked to the swim.”
2. One Lap At A Time (In and Out of the Water)
Training for an ultra swim means Kloss gets up at 5:30 so he can swim from 6-8 am before his full time work as a business owner. In the depths of the cold, dark Canadian winter, getting outof bed to face a 5 km swim can be a struggle. “It’s hard sometimes. It’s pitch black when I go to the pool, it’s pitch black when I come home from the pool. The hardest part is just getting up. But I don't ever go to the pool with the mindset of, I'm going to swim 5 km or I'm going toswim 4 km,” he says.
“Some mornings, I go with the mindset that I just have to jump in. Literally some mornings, I’m just going to swim a lap. I never just swim one lap, but, when I'm going into it, it's one lap. So I like to look at it like, okay, let’s get in and swim a lap, and then it's a kilometer. And then once you get to the kilometer you're like, okay, let's push for two. The lake is similar. If you look at [the lake crossing] as 51 kilometers, that’s daunting and it seems impossible. So, I take it as chunks, one, two hours at a time, or 5K at a time.”
Kloss says it’s not just a useful mindset for swimming ultra distances. “Swimming is helping me put business pieces into place as well. Building and growing a business is the same as training for the swim: it's one lap at a time. It can literally translate from the pool to business, to school, to whatever it is that you're doing. Set your goal—this is what I want do, I want have this job, I want to go to this school, whatever— and then take it one lap at a time.”
3. Consistency Over Perfection
Kloss’s strategy is to focus on the smaller steps, like completing the daily physical training in the pool, but sometimes he fails to achieve those goals. But, if Kloss has to miss a swim for some reason, he doesn’t beat himself up about it. “Sometimes we're too hard on ourselves when we miss one little goal versus thinking about the bigger picture. It's more about consistency and you can miss one day,” he explains. “The important thing is my consistency over time. The number of kilometers that I've done in a month is more important than one day.”
He says that bigger picture thinking is also how he looks at his own mental health. “It’s normal to feel down sometimes, but tomorrow will be better.” Accepting that having a bad day is just a natural, normal part of life, can help put things into perspective.
4. Know Your Purpose
Swimming the 51 km across Lake Ontario is the goal, but it’s not Kloss’s purpose. Why he is doing an ultra swim leads back to mental health. “My grandfather dying had a huge impact on me personally...So when he died, it affected me pretty badly and I was struggling a little bit. And then shortly after our friend killed himself and it was just this moment of—and he was a guy that you would not expect. He was the happiest, most outgoing person outwardly—so it was a point where I needed to start swimming again for my own mental health.”
Using swimming as part of his good mental health practice ultimately inspired Kloss to target the Lake Ontario crossing. In the process of taking care of himself, Kloss realized the prolific role mental health was playing in his life, his friend’s, his family’s, and everyone around him. Actually, he didn’t just realize it, he saw a sign.
“There's a big billboard as I drive home every day from the pool. During this one month it said one in two people are struggling with mental health, and all these other mental health statistics. Every morning I'd drive home and I'd see this, and then thinking about Mike who killed himself and then everything else... Everybody is affected by it, whether they want to believe it or not, and just because you're affected by it doesn't mean that you’re weak or abnormal or something's wrong with you. Everybody suffers in some way, shape or form from some kind of mental health and I think it's just letting people know that it's, it's normal.”
Not only does Kloss represent how swimming can be used as part of a good mental health practice, but he is using the platform of his ultra swim to raise awareness and funds for the CAMH Foundation. “They are a leading researcher in mental health. We’re raising money for the mental health aspect and also for dementia and Alzheimer’s. It all links back to my grandfather who died of dementia and ultimately why I'm swimming across Lake Ontario.”
Kloss says knowing how important mental health is to everyone and raising money for CAMH helps keep him motivated to train, especially when things get tough.
Kloss will be attempting to swim across Lake Ontario in August 2023. To follow or donate, visit https://www.kloss2cross.com/about-the-swim