On a cold day in October last year, Jasmin Gerwien drove to the Dallas Road beach opposite Ross Bay Cemetery, said a prayer, and walked into the ocean water.
Wracked with back pain and an all-encompassing grief due to her mother’s recent passing, Gerwien felt a compulsion to enter the water, clothes and all.
The Dallas Road beach held deep connections with her and her mother, but being there prompted a desperate act to regain control of her life.
“I came out of the water freezing, but the pain was gone. It was a complete miracle,” Gerwien said. “I took a deep breath. It was the first time I could breathe since my mother passed. I went back and stayed in the water longer. That was the beginning.”
The 49-year-old Cadboro Bay resident said the frigid saltwater washed away the suffering and grief. Through the winter and without a wet suit, she has become one of the rare people to regularly swim the waterfront of Victoria. Ocean swimming has become an almost daily routine.
“Swimming helped my depression. Without that I wouldn’t be alive today, if not for ocean swimming. I’m so thankful we have a beautiful ocean in Victoria,” Gerwien said. “It’s the best medicine you can ask for.”
To honour her mother’s memory, Gerwien is launching her Victory Ocean Swim event on Sunday to collect donations for the Mustard Seed food bank.
Growing up in Palestine, Kuwait and eventually Canada, Gerwein said her mother, Victoria – which in Arabic translates to “Victory” – always fed those around her – neighbours, friends and strangers. In Edmonton, she volunteered constantly at a food bank, Gerwien said.
“I want to continue my mother’s legacy,” said Gerwien, who works as a Realtor and an actor in local TV commercials. “Supporting the food bank was a big part of our life.”
For the Victory Ocean Swim event, people are encouraged to bring non-perishable foods, warm clothing and cash to Gyro Park for the Mustard Seed, and if they are feeling brave, to take an early polar bear swim in the ocean.
There’s no obligation to get in the water, especially if people have health concerns, Gerwien said, and using a wet suit is fine too.
“That water is freezing,” she said laughing. “I feel the cold, but it’s worth it. After two minutes I feel the warmth and energy and I can go home and continue my day,”
Gerwien’s friends and colleagues know of her passion for cold ocean swimming all too well. She even convinced the president of her company, Michael Holmes of Pemberton Holmes, to take a dip off Dallas Road.
“It was bloody cold,” Holmes said. “It was invigorating. I enjoyed it a lot. There is something about being frozen that gets the juices going and the skin tingling.”
He plans to face the ocean once again at the Victory Swim.
“I hope people come to participate, get inspired and get invigorated for a good cause of putting food on people’s tables,” Gerwein said.
The swim starts at 1 p.m. at Gyro Beach on Nov. 11.
Cadboro Bay merchants have donated gift certificates for people who brave the water.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or see jasminvictoria.com.