Saanich's Dale Robinson and James Bay's Susan Simmons will be attempting a 50 kilometre open water swim from Ocean Falls to Bella Bella in July.

James Bay swimmer takes on Great Bear Sea

When Susan Simmons was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she thought her life would be over — but it was really just the beginning.

When Susan Simmons was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she thought her life would be over — but it was really just the beginning.

Simmons, a James Bay resident, was diagnosed with MS when she was 30 years old. Prior to her diagnosis, whenever she would go into the sun, her arms and legs would tingle and go numb, walking short distances became difficult, she was often fatigued, even though she slept 12 hours a day, and at times, her vision would become blurred.

“I sat at home waiting to die basically. I thought if I don’t do something I’ll end up in a wheelchair,” Simmons said, admitting she had not exercised in years. “I could see how physically weak I was getting.”

After an emotional conversation with her husband one night, Simmons decided to make a change. She wanted to get back into shape and eat healthy. The first step was getting back into the pool to take up swimming, something she did competitively as a teenager.

After more than two decades of rebuilding her strength and stamina in and outside the pool, Simmons graduated from pool swimming to open water swimming. Not only has it become a passion of hers, but swimming in the open water has become a way for Simmons to keep her symptoms in check.

“I’m drawn to the water. When you’re in the water swimming, there’s a bit of sensory deprivation,” Simmons said.

“You hear yourself breathing, you hear your hands going into the water. You see water and you see sky and that’s it. There’s no talking. You get into a very zen state. You don’t hear traffic or ambulances, it’s a very peaceful place for me.”

In the past, she has competed in marathon swims at Lake Cowichan, the Strait of Georgia and English Bay in distances of 10, 34 and 70 kilometres. Most recently, she attempted a 105 kilometre swim around Lake Cowichan.

Now, Simmons, 51, is taking on a new challenge. Along with Saanich’s Dale Robinson and Gordon Head’s Jill Yoneda, Simmons will be attempting a 50-kilometre open water swim in the Great Bear Sea from Ocean Falls, at the head of Cousins Inlet, to Bella Bella in July.

It’s a passage of open water no one has attempted to swim before and Simmons will be doing it unassisted with just a swim suit, swim cap and goggles, swimming 20 to 25 kilometres a day over a two-day period. There will also be a pilot, guiding a boat beside her to navigate the path and a safety person to provide her with food along the way.

Simmons chose to begin the swim at Ocean Falls because of its history in the swimming community.

“In the 1960s, over half of the Olympic swim squad came from Ocean Falls. They had a 20-yard swimming pool, a fabulous swim team and the coach ended up coaching my coaches when I was a youth swimmer,” Simmons said. “It was a nice connection for me and it’s a way for me to bring back that history. I wanted to honour them.”

She added the swim is also a chance to highlight some of the waterways in British Columbia.

In preparation for the swim, Simmons has been swimming 20 to 50 kilometres a week at Thetis Lake, Lake Cowichan or Caddy Bay.

However, the biggest challenge will be the temperature of the water.

The temperature of Thetis Lake and Lake Cowichan are between 17 to 18 degrees Celsius and 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, but the water in the Great Bear Sea is roughly 12.7 degrees Celsius and will be the coldest water Simmons has ventured into.

“You can really feel it slowing you down, you can really feel the hypothermia. You have to keep moving and knowing that when you get out you’re needing to get warm really quick,” she said.

Another challenge is the wildlife. While Simmons has encountered wildlife before (she swam beside a grey whale in English Bay), she could encounter more transient orcas in the Lama Passage, some of which are more aggressive than other types of whales.

If that happens, Simmons and her fellow swimmers will remove themselves from the water until the orcas have passed.

The swimmers will begin the marathon on July 12 at Ocean Falls. For more information visit greatbearswim.com.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria woman to sell masks on wheels after garage stand shut down

Mama’s Masks stand accompanied Moss Street Market

Greater Victoria non-profit advocates for the use of psilocybin for terminal patients

North Saanich psychotherapist pushes for alternative treatment

Gathering marks 10 years since nearly 500 asylum-seekers landed off Victoria shore

The 492 people fleeing violence, war crimes and genocide in Sri Lanka were detained for months

One person in custody after hours-long Cook Street standoff with barricaded robbery suspects

Victoria police say 2300-block of Cook Street has reopened to drivers

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Captive fawn seized from Island home

Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 11

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Most Read