Meet the litigator who braves the open water

Robert McGlashan has battled three-foot waves on Lake Ontario and outraced hypothermia in Lake Titicaca
Portrait of Robert McGlashan with googles pulled up on his forehead and a green towel around his neck

When you’re a marathon open-water swimmer like Robert McGlashan, you get very familiar, very quickly, with marine life and Mother Nature. McGlashan has been shadowed by dolphins and passed by speedy penguins while crossing the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile. He wrestled three-foot waves in darkness on Lake Ontario after the summer weather turned. He outraced hypothermia in the thin air of Lake Titicaca and battled exhaustion — and exceedingly sore shoulders — on a 26-hour swim across Lake Geneva. Unsurprisingly, McGlashan relishes the challenge. “You’re away from civilization, you really feel connected to the elements and you’re experiencing something you don’t during your normal workday,” says the 41-year-old civil litigator and partner at Blakeney Henneberry Murphy & Galligan. “It’s exciting to see what you’re capable of.” 

Portrait of Robert McGlashan with googles pulled up on his forehead and a green towel around his neck

Robert McGlashan

Blakeney Henneberry Murphy & Galligan 

McGlashan grew up swimming competitively in pools (and recreationally in lakes), but it was after he started practising law in 2006 that he gravitated toward longer distances in open water. In 2009, he signed up for the 10-kilometre race in the Welland Canal — not too nippy, not too much of a current, good for a novice — and came back every year till 2018, when he turned his attention to even more ambitious swims. “I really enjoy travel,” he says, “so I started looking at bodies of water that were in places I wanted to visit and had a different difficulty factor.” 

Last summer, McGlashan transformed his hobby into a fundraising tool called Swim for Change. “I thought of doing three swims for three different charities,” he says — across Lake Erie to support Shelter Movers, which helps survivors of gender-based violence; across Lake Ontario for World Wildlife Fund; and around California’s Angel Island for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada. How does he do it all? “Just like with law, it involves a lot of preparation, and you always need a contingency plan,” he says. Okay: would McGlashan rather be surprised in court or in the water? He considers this, then cops out with a laugh. “I don’t want to be surprised anywhere.” But so far, not even the most treacherous swims — or cases — have slowed him down. 

This story is from our Spring 2022 Issue.

Photography by Steph Martyniuk.