A blind man who grew up in Williams Lake plans to swim across the Georgia Strait this July to raise money so others like him will receive a guide dog.
Two years ago Scott Rees, 39, welcomed a yellow lab named Kaleb from Canadian Dogs for the Blind into his home.
Kaleb has turned out to be a great companion and a great family dog, when he isn’t working.
“My wife Alex and I have two kids and he is very much part of the family,” Scott told Black Press Media. “We bonded immediately and he certainly took very strongly to my wife right away. He accepted us as his adopted family and has a pretty happy existence”
Kaleb just turned six years of age and was bit older when they got him than guide dogs are normally, which Scott attributed to being a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, Scott decided he wanted to do a fundraiser for Canadian Dogs for the Blind and launched it March 2022.
He began training for it and behind the scenes leg work.
Scott originally hoped to raise $20,000, but as of July 10, Swim the Strait has passed $100,000 in pledges.
“I’m still training and depending on the weather we may have to postpone the swim a day or two or three. It depends on the wind. The Georgia Strait wouldn’t be safe for the boats and myself if there are very large swells.”
Aside from it being a 30-km swim as far as the crow flies, he said he will have to deal with currents and waves that will make it a bit longer.
Good friends of his are accompanying him through the swim in a support boat.
An old friend, Tom Griffiths will be the boat’s pilot and Joost Van Woerden will be his swim nutritionist.
“Because I’m blind I need a headset for navigation and Joost will be talking to me on the radio to help me stay on course.”
Another friend, Dr. Ben Bauer, will be making sure Scott stays healthy during the swim and does not become too cold.
His brother-in-law, Cameron MacCarthy, will run a secondary boat in case there are any mechanical issues with the first boat.
That way they will have a backup plan.
“I have a lot of people that I owe a lot of thanks in terms of fundraising and planning,” Scott said.
Jeff Murphy, volunteer program and events coordinator for Canadian Dogs for the Blind said Scott’s Swim the Strait fundraiser is quite the unique effort and is truly a remarkable undertaking.
“We have all been amazed and humbled by the response from the public, and we are grateful for their support. When Scott first proposed the idea for this fundraiser, I don’t think any of us, Scott included, thought that it would achieve this level of success.”
Murphy said they are very excited for Scott’s swim and from his last conversation with him, he knows that he is looking forward to focusing on his training this week and getting in the water for his attempt on the 22nd.
According to the International Guide Dog Foundation, approximately 2,400 guide dog teams are graduated worldwide each year.
The organization graduates between 24 and 30 guide dog teams every year and has graduated 934 teams as of May 2023.
They receive no on-going funding from any level of government and are solely funded through donations. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind provides services at no cost to clients, and the guide dogs have worked in every province of Canada, and in the territory of Nunavut, as well.
Scott anticipates the swim will last between 10 and 12 hours, again depending on the conditions, but he is hoping to be inside of 10 hours.
Scott was not born blind.
His dad Walter Rees, a retired doctor in Williams Lake, and mom Kathy Rees have four children and three of them have vision loss.
“My brother and one of my sisters have vision issues although slightly different. Mine is called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Three of the four of us were affected by a recessive gene that our parents both carried.”
Scott can see light if he looks up into the sky but has no functional sight left to see faces, shapes or read text.
Growing up he swam competitively in Williams Lake.
Chad Webb, who coaches the Blue Fins swim team locally, was his coach in high school.
In 2001, Scott moved to Vancouver to go to the University of British Columbia and today is a civil engineer working for a private company in downtown Vancouver.
“I am lucky to be living in the current age of modern technology. I listen to everything and can type and listen back to what I am typing.”
He works with technical analysis and reporting and does it all by listening.
When asked if he was a good listener as a child, he chuckled loudly.
“That’s a good question,” he responded. “I guess I’d have to ask my parents. I think so.”
By losing his sight he has given up some favourite activities such as whitewater kayaking, which he noted used to occupy all of his free time.
Scott never anticipated to receive as much support for the Canadian Dogs for the Blind fundraiser which has been organized as a third party fundraising initiative.
“Every dollar raised goes straight into the charity. There are a lot of costs involved in professionally-trained guide dogs,” he said. “The training, the vet bills, and facilities - they have many costs that money will go toward.”
On Saturday, July 22, Scott will depart from Davis Bay near Sechelt and head to Pipers Lagoon near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
He said the swim is similar in distance to the famous English Channel crossing or California’s Santa Catalina Island, but less well known.