‘Baron’ completes historic swim

Shanice Carr

Baron Ambrosia after swimming the length of the Bronx River on July 27.

TV host swims the Bronx River in seven hours

A crowd of spectators cheered as they witnessed Bronx history being made on the shores of Soundview Lagoon in Harding Park last Saturday evening.

They welcomed Baron Ambrosia back to shore as he emerged from the Bronx River, having completed a swim that no one on record has dared to undertake before. The swim began at the headwaters of the river at the border of Yonkers at noon and ended at Harding Park over seven hours later with music, dance and drinks.

Justin Fornal, 35, who also goes by the name of his on-screen alter ego Baron Ambrosia, is the Emmy-nominated star of the BronxNet produced TV show”Bronx Flavor” that features his exploration of Bronx restaurants and writes  for and hosts the national show Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia on the Cooking Channel. As someone who eats for a living, Ambrosia had to shed 50 pounds to get in shape for the swim, and has been training for the past eight months. He dedicated the last month-and-a-half to the swimming portion of his training.

“It wasn’t my physical ability, it was my heart and mind that got me here” he said, after completing the swim. His wife, Kim Fornal, 34, greeted him onshore.  Family, friends and fans flocked to snap photos with Ambrosia, who still appeared to be full of vigor after his long journey.

Mrs. Fornal says that that kind of daring is typical of her husband.

“He just wakes up one morning and says ‘So what can I do that no one else has done?’” she said.

Ambrosia said he wanted to raise the public’s awareness about the improved state of the once-maligned river.

“I’m not saying ‘go swim the Bronx River like I did,’ but I want them to know that there is adventure to be had right here,” he said.

The most challenging part of the swim came after he passed Hunts Point, Ambrosia said. That’s where the river “opened out into big water,” and he felt himself slowing down.

Kellie Terry-Selpuveda, executive director of The Point CDC and chair of the board for the non-profit Bronx River Alliance, said there were some concerns for Ambrosia’s safety at first, but that the record-breaking swim “symbolizes a great sense of pride for this beautiful place we call the Bronx.”

Nancy Key, a member of the Harding Park Homeowners Association, helped decide that Soundview Lagoon was where the swim should end after she struck a casual conversation with Ambrosia one day while he was walking through the neighborhood.

“I’m happy when I can see people come together like this” said Key, motioning to the crowd of supporters.

Edicer Gonzalez, 33, a longtime family friend, paddled alongside Ambrosia in a canoe throughout the journey along with Ambrosia’s uncle, a paramedic.

Ambrosia suffered only minor cuts along the journey, caused by debris on the riverbed. Those injuries would have been much worse if the river had not been so thoroughly cleaned in recent years, said Gonzalez, who added he hopes his friend’s achievement “will open Bronxites’ eyes to the wealth of nature in their own backyards.”

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