One might think swimming 50 kilometres in the open sea would be a grand enough accomplishment for one summer, but Susan Simmons views that feat as just the opening act.
This Friday, Simmons will begin her greatest challenge yet: 105 kilometres of continuous swimming in Cowichan Lake. While achieving this goal will mean she’s broken the world record for longest lake swim, that’s not what’s motivating her.
“I’m not really concerned with that. My swim is for people with MS, to inspire them,” said Simmons, who has multiple sclerosis, which she manages through fitness and nutrition. “I do want to swim farther than anyone ever has in a lake — and I want to show people with MS that you can achieve great things, and [that] staying fit and healthy and living an active life is very possible.”
Simmons will be performing a “traditional skin swim,” which means she won’t be using a wet suit. On Friday at 8 a.m. she will leave from Heather Campsite — at the most northwesterly point on the lake — and swim to Lakeview Park, then back again. That won’t quite bring her to 106 kilometres, so Simmons will swim to the point at the narrows, then return to Heather Campsite for a third and final time. She expects the whole swim will take a little over two days.
Last month Simmons swam through the Great Bear Sea from Ocean Falls to Bella Bella, clocking 25 kilometres her first day, resting for the night, then swimming another 25 kilometres the next day.
Her ocean swim and this upcoming lake swim will differ in several key ways. The Great Bear Sea, with water temperatures of around 14 C while she was swimming, have made the Cowichan Lake’s 22 C water positively warm by comparison.
“So I’m not affected by the cold at this point, although I might be as I get more tired,” said Simmons. “The ocean in some ways is easier because you’re floating [due to the high salinity]. You’re at least 20 per cent more buoyant in the ocean, so it’s almost like you’re wearing a wet suit.”
Another big difference is this swim will be continuous, no stopping and resting overnight. Simmons said she anticipates this will be one of the greatest challenges to overcome. But she feels confident after completing the Great Bear Swim, during which she achieved “exactly what [she] set out to do.”
She said choppy waters on the lake caused by wind — often blowing from the direction of Nitinat — also pose a significant challenge. Twice while training in the lake Simmons has had to pull out because of the wind.
This will be her fourth year of long-distance swimming in Cowichan Lake.
In 2013 she swam 35 kilometres; in 2014, 70 kilometres; and then last summer she swam 44 of her 105-kilometre goal. She had to pull out because of illness.
“So I’m attempting what I wasn’t able to last year,” she said.
“I want to thank everybody in Lake Cowichan for all their support and help. When I’m out on the water if they want to come up and say hi, I appreciate it, just please approach me slowly so there is not a lot of boat wake.”