By Paul Bucci, special to Black Press Media
After almost nine hours of swimming in 9 C choppy waters, Susan Simmons has halted her attempt to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca after developing hypothermia.
Simmons – an ultra-marathon simmer with multiple sclerosis – dove into the waters off Ogden Point Saturday, Aug. 18 at 1 p.m. expecting to be in the water for 24 hours for the 66-kilometre journey from Victoria to Port Angeles.
Roughly 15 km in she felt her head go numb, just shy of the American border.
“Sometimes in life it’s honorable to fail because safety always comes first,” Simmons said Sunday. “It takes more courage to fail then it does to succeed in some cases.”
Simmons explained she started her swim with a strong stroke and good progress, but the ocean was colder than normal, with temperatures she thinks were driven down by the thick cloud of smoke hovering over the province as a result of the wildfires.
“Water is just coming in all directions,” Simmons said of hitting the area of the strait known as the “washing machine” where wind and waves collide. “You can never really find a rhythm in your swimming, and and you’re tossed all over the place, again and again.”
The MS Athlete had hoped for a second attempt at swiming the strait – she was successful last summer – after tide and winds delayed her adventure twice, earlier this month.
Simmons uses the cold water swims to manage her MS and as a way to spread the message of resilience, strength and awareness of the disease.
“Susan’s story is amazing, it’s exciting,” said Marilyn Bell, the first athlete to swim Lake Ontario in 1954. “She has a powerful message, and swimming is her platform to deliver that.”
In 2017, the Victoria-based Simmons, who trains at Cowichan Lake, was named one of the World Open Water Swimming’s World’s 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women.
In a series of tweets posted Saturday evening, Simmons and her team said, “This is the longest Susan has ever swam in water this cold. She is being treated [en] route to Victoria.”
“We are so proud of her!”
Next up for Simmons is a relay through Lake Cowichan with her Special Olympic swim team, followed by a 26-mile swim in solidarity with an MS marathon in Detroit, Michigan in October.
- With files from Paul Bucci