Traditional open-water ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons struggles against 37 km an hour winds in 2017 with safety crew members Ray Este and Collette Heneghan in the nearby kayak. Conditions became so rough that Simmons was forced to pull out. This year, Simmons plans to attempt two massive swims: a continuous unassisted double-crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria to Port Angeles, and a continuation of last year’s Great Bear swim, from Ocean Falls on B.C.’s Central Coast to Vancouver Island. (Photo contributed)

Island woman plans two massive swims this summer

Water adventure fundraisers for MS and First Nations youth camps

Whatever the distance, Victoria swimmer Susan Simmons is willing to go.

‘Every time I get in the water, I challenge myself,” said Simmons, who plans to attempt two massive swims this summer: a continuous unassisted (no-wet suit) double-crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria to Port Angeles, and a continuation of last year’s Great Bear swim, from Ocean Falls on B.C.’s Central Coast to Vancouver Island.

Her swims are aimed to raise awareness for environmental issues, and to fundraise for the MS Wellness Centre and the Heiltsuk First Nation youth camp program.

Simmons is a traditional open-water marathon swimmer, which means she only wears a traditional swim suit, a swim cap, and goggles while in the water.

“If I wore a wetsuit, that would help me in a lot of ways, like controlling my body temperature or helping my muscles, and I want to do it naturally,” she said.

In earlier years, Simmons swam up until the age of about 15, but didn’t return to the sport until she was 40.

“I was diagnosed with MS, and swimming helps control my symptoms,” Simmons explained, noting the water helps keep her body cool while exercising. “Heat can trigger an MS attack.”

The swimming started off in the pool, but Simmons was looking for more of a challenge.

“I was worried I was going to get bored. I wanted new goals and challenges to keep myself fit,” said Simmons. So she took to the ocean, and has never looked back.

“Being out there in the water is amazing,” said Simmons.

She trains year-round and approximately 30 hours a week, getting in the water usually twice a day, or doing another form of exercise including weightlifting, paddling, or biking. In the winter, Simmons also tries to get in the water for lengthy amounts of time to help better adjust to the temperatures on her marathon swims.

While enduring the long swims, Simmons calms herself into a meditative state and tries to focus on her strokes and breaths.

“I’m aware of the risks, but to me these swims are just about the experience, getting out there and having fun. When you’re out there totally surrounded by blue, the sky above, the water all around you, and you look down below you and all you can see is blue… there’s nothing like it. It’s a surreal feeling,” said Simmons.

If she is successful on her swims this summer, Simmons will make history.

The Great Bear swim takes place on June 6 and 7, starting at Lama Passage, where she will swim approximately 20 kilometres each day until she reaches Koeye River. Along the route, through Heiltsuk territory will include a stop at a camp for First Nations children.

Last year when she tried the Great Bear swim, she was challenged because the area is so heavily populated with humpback whales.

“They hear or see something that’s unfamiliar to them so they come and check it out. One swam up underneath me once, but they are not there to hurt us, they are just curious and it is such an honour that I get to share these bodies of water with them on my swims” said Simmons.

The Juan de Fuca swim will take place in August.

She will have a team of 10 people, including a coastguard following her along both journeys. The team will pass Simmons food and water as she stops every half hour to regain energy.

Those who wish to track the Great Bear swim can visit greatbearswim.com.

The Great Bear swim is raising money for the Heiltsuk youth camps, called the QQS Projects Society, which helps teach Heiltsuk youth about their traditional values, practices, and laws. To donate to the program, visit canadahelps.org.

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

Just Posted

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCaubry dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)
Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCaubry

(Black Press Media file photo)
Spooky online class cooks up funds for Greater Victoria Imagination Library

United Way Greater Victoria offers how-to for witch cookies, tasty coffin as fundraiser

Murray Rankin has announced he will seek the nomination for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding in the 2021 provincial election (which could happen in the fall of 2020). The former Minister of Parliament for the Victoria riding from 2012 to 2019.
(MurrayRankin.com)
New Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin says he will use his federal connections

Rankin said being part of NDP majority government gives him a strong voice

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read