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. (Black Press Media file photo)

COVID-19, lack of pool has Greater Victoria marathon swimmer worried

Shutdown hits swimmers, residents trying to stay healthy

There were times Susan Simmons dragged herself to the pool knowing if she didn’t go, life would only get worse.

Now, the accomplished marathon swimmer who routinely swam 20 to 40 kilometres a week is a housebound fish out of water, trying to find ways to keep active without a pool to swim in.

“When Thetis warms up it’s going to be a madhouse, and I don’t think I’ll be able to swim there either,” said Simmons, who took up swimming as a way to combat the deteriorating health effects of multiple sclerosis.

READ MORE: A cold answer to multiple sclerosis

READ ALSO: Swimmers conquer 70km Cowichan Lake double

As the story goes, more than a decade ago Simmons had been diagnosed with MS and she was unfit, on the verge of going blind and soon to be wheelchair-bound. She was even told not to exercise as the generated heat is known to trigger MS symptoms.

But the cooler temperatures of pool water negated those symptoms and one thing led to another as Simmons found a return to a vibrant and healthy life. She transitioned into an open-water dynamo. Simmons conquered the 34 km length of Cowichan Lake in 2013 and then did a Cowichan Lake double in 2014 – a 32-hour, 79-kilometre two-way crossing of the lake. In 2017, Simmons became the eighth person to swim the Juan de Fuca Strait without a wetsuit, a la Marilyn Bell, walking out at Ogden Point (only a few more have done it even with a wetsuit) and into the cafe for a beer.

Through it all, Simmons became involved as a swim coach for the local Special Olympics chapter, the Spirit Orcas, and also co-ordinated getting many more people with MS into the pool.

“I get really worried because I have MS, and asthma, I said to [my partner], if I get ‘it’ I’m probably dead,” Simmons said. “I know I need to remain physical to be healthy and I can see when I’m not, the deterioration goes quickly.”

Simmons actually won a bike at the Market on Yates last year and has been on it a lot recently as she and her partner have made a pact to travel by their own power, at a social distance, instead of driving.

“I don’t know how [people] can run,” said the athlete who clocks over 1,000 km a year in the pool.

And yet it’s not just Simmons, but a whole community of locals that relied on the pool to maintain their physical and social livelihood who are now trying to make do in other ways.

The Special Olympics organization has suspended all programs not just in Canada but globally, said Andrea Boyes, spokesperson for the local Special Olympics chapter.

“All over the world, Special Olympics Global are posting resources online for athletes right now,” Boyes said.

Simmons, of course, had a couple of open-water swimming goals to accomplish this year. One was to do a leg of the Great Bear Sea that she’s been swimming in for years, and another was to swim into Victoria from Race Rocks.

“Part of Special Olympics is not just about getting fit and doing sport but also having a family and people who you can relate to who treat you like equals,” Simmons said. “It will take a toll on the athletes over time. It’s important to have goals to work towards.”

reporter@oakbaynews.com

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Fairfield gas station fire deemed arson

Police looking for witnesses, video of 2:30 a.m. April 5 fire

Sidney senior grateful for stranger’s help during medical incident

Hendrina Welter never caught a glimpse of the woman who helped her after she blacked out

Outreach initiative connects Sooke seniors to support amid COVID-19

Volunteers encouraged to sign up as need increases

Victoria company compares drone footage of city streets between August and now

Fewer cars, people seen on streets and at landmarks

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

COVID-19: Hospitals remain safe for childbirth, say Vancouver Island care providers

North Island Hospital has been asked to share its perinatal COVID-19 response plan

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Most Read