The Spirit Orcas, from left: Coach Susan Simmons, Ben Vanlierop, Maria Sharock, Dixon McGowan, Cheyenne Furlong Goos, Coach Peter Kremer and Aly White. Missing is Drew Sabourin. (Photo by Jennifer Blyth)

Tackling ‘one fear after another:’ ‘Spirit Orca’ swimmers ready for next challenge

Victoria swimmers with developmental disabilities preparing for ocean relay in Great Bear Rainforest

When you’ve been dropped into open water in the dead of night somewhere in middle of the Salish Sea, there is no time to doubt yourself.

Or give in to the “C-word.”

“It’s not that cold,” says distance swimmer Cheyenne Furlong Goos. “My body temperature regulates, I’m already used to the cold water…You just push through it.”

“Cold” and “freezing” are unspoken words for the Spirit Orcas – a group of Greater Victoria swimmers with varying developmental disabilities. The group is working their way up to swimming the English Channel – but the next stop in their journey is in the Great Bear Rainforest.

READ ALSO: Swimming to freedom from multiple sclerosis

Coach Susan Simmons – an accomplished marathon swimmer who lives with multiple sclerosis – worked with some of the athletes during her role as a trainer for the Special Olympics. She says many of the swimmers weren’t being challenged enough, and soon began coaching a small group of six athletes interested in trying out endurance swimming outside the pool.

The Spirit Orcas were born.

“There’s no reason that we shouldn’t challenge people with disabilities,” Simmons said. “I think it’s life-changing for them. For most of their lives they’ve been told, ‘You cant do this,’ and for someone to turn around and say, ‘How can I help?’

They have a lot more confidence in themselves and they feel more respected and heard and valued.”

Members Cheyenne Furlong Goos, Dixon McGowan, Drew Sabourin, Maria Sharock, Ben Vanlierop and Aly White meet three to four times a week for training.

And the group has made some incredible achievements already – including swimming the length of Cowichan Lake in 2018 – the same distance as the English Channel.

READ ALSO: Students train for open water swim in ‘chilly late-spring waters of the Salish Sea’

Now the swimmers are heading north to swim a 25-kilometre relay through the Gunboat Passage near Bella Bella – Heiltsuk territory in the Great Bear Rainforest – the team’s first major swim in the ocean.

After that milestone, the Spirit Orcas will swim the Strait of Georgia between Sechelt and Nanaimo where the water temperature – about 9 to 11 degrees – is similar to what they will experience in England.

When they’re ready, the team will head to Dover and swim the channel – front-crawling and butterfly stroking from England to France.

“It’s amazing to see how [the Spirit Orcas] have embraced this and how devoted they are to what they do,” Simmons said. “Imagine you have an anxiety disorder and you are placed in open water in the middle of the ocean…I’ve watched them tackle one fear after another.”

READ ALSO: ‘Takes more courage to fail’: B.C. ultra-marathon swimmer reflects on cancelled try at record

For Simmons herself, MS never stopped her from distance swimming – in fact she’s swam over 100 kilometres collectively since her diagnosis.

“That’s because people around me believed I could do it,” she said. “When we think about people with disabilities and how we can help them – it’s by believing in them.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help raise funds for the Spirit Orcas’ journey to the Great Bear Rain Forest. Visit gofundme.com/spirit-orcas to make a donation.



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Camosun student starts bursary program for low-income students

The Jor-Dawn Smith Bursary will go to one Greater Victoria graduate in spring 2020

Victoria property company plans to replace Saanich apartments with townhouses

Abstract Developments plans 26 townhouses for Gorge Road West

Curtain closes on Sidney’s Star Cinema location

The iconic theatre will move to a temporary location after its last showing Sunday

Technical difficulties delay Victoria’s $500,000 Christmas light village

The Lights of Wonder display was originally set to open on Dec. 13

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

Greater Victoria 2019 holiday craft fair roundup

Get a jump on your holiday shopping

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

Residents in B.C. city could face 133% tax hike in ‘worst case’ lawsuit outcome: report

An average home could see a tax increase of $2,164 in one year

POLL: Will you be donating to charities over the holiday season?

Many here in Victoria joined others around the world to take part… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 3

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

Most Read