A crowd of supporters gathered at Ogden Point on Saturday afternoon as Susan Simmons, a Victoria ultra-marathon swimmer, prepared to begin an aching 66-kilometre long swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back.
Simmons was calm and collected as people and media buzzed around.
“I’m feeling nice and relaxed, and I’m really happy with how the water looks,” Simmons said minutes before diving in. “I like to be more mellow than energetic, and just keep it on that really smooth vibe. I’ve got to keep it going for 24 hours, so I’ve got to manage that, I don’t want to get too excited.”
When asked what will keep her going for 24 hours, Simmons said she had an encouraging support group on the water with her, who she will stop and chat with every 30 minutes.
“I have somebody, Soleil, a 10 year old who’s gonna be telling me jokes, so I’m going to think about that,” Simmons said. “I’ve brought a bunch of cards that the kids at Sangster Elementary School made for me when I went out to talk to them, and they’ve given me all good wishes, so I’ll be looking at those on my breaks.”
Simmons has multiple sclerosis, and uses a vegan diet and cold water swims to help manage her symptoms, but she also uses the swims as a way to spread the message of resilience, strength and awareness for the disease.
“It inspires everybody, even someone who has very little mobility now watches this and thinks, you know, there we go, ‘because I can’,” said Clare Gomez, Simmons’ friend who lives with MS, referring to the slogan on her MS Athletes shirt. “She’s inspired me to do things I couldn’t do before, she inspires everybody.”
Strangers also gathered to cheer Simmons on.
“It’s just amazing what she’s doing, and given what her challenges are, and my nephew was just diagnosed [with MS] so that’s part of it as well,” said Sherri Heyward. “The fact that sometimes you’re down or whatever and you see someone with such hurdles to overcome, whatever is going on in your life is very minimal. “
Simmons believes the swim will take 24 hours, and hopes to return to Victoria around 1:oo p.m. on Sunday, just in time for brunch at the Breakwater Cafe.