The Great Bear Swim is a series of open water swims along the Pacific Coast of Canada.
The Great Bear Swim 2016 was a 50 km stage swim from Ocean Falls to Bella Bella, Canada by Dale Robinson, Susan Simmons, and Jill Yoneda. The Great Bear Swim 2017 was a two-day solo affair from the shores of Bella Bella on Campbell Island to Namu in British Columbia’s Inside Passage in Canada.
Simmons has attempted back-to-back distance swims over the past few years despite being wracked with multiple sclerosis. “I’ve been in recovery mode over the winter. The wear of the two big swims over the past few years has accumulated and made it difficult for me to train. I found myself doing a lot less than in the past – which has been difficult. That’s not to say I have given up. I think I have just had to learn to train a bit different.”
On June 20th, Simmons found herself in Canada’s Great Bear Rain Forest. “I will be continuing the journey I started last year. It’s quite exciting as these are un-swum waters. This year’s route follows a known humpback migration path. I am a bit nervous and pretty darn excited all at the same time.”
She encountered moon jellyfish, Lion’s Mane jellyfish and seals in the 13°C water off the shores of Bella Bella en route to Namu. “Namu is an old canning community that was abandoned several years ago. Built along docks, the town is in a state of disrepair with much of it falling into the ocean creating an environmental hazard. Namu is also the site of an ancient Heiltsuk village with site artifacts dating back up to 10,000 years.”
During a particularly turbulent part of her Day One swim, she asked her crew if she could swim towards an inlet. “I was told, ‘No – there are wolves up there,’ a first for me on an open water swim.”
After 10 km, she climbed onshore and rested until the next day on Denny Island when the water hovered around 13°C. Along the way, her escort kayaker spotted a small pod of whales as they spouted. “I was reassured they were far on the other side of the pass and swam on.
About 3 hours into the swim, the water rose from directly below me very gently – and then fell just as gently. It was an incredible feeling, not like any other I have had in the water. When I looked to the right, there was a humpback whale about 300 feet from me. I panicked and then scrambled to hide behind my kayakers. Within seconds, I realized that really wouldn’t do much.“
She finished her stage swim as she reached the 10 km point.
Simmons does her adventures even while diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis over 20 years ago. “I have chosen a lifestyle that manages the disease through physical fitness and diet. My number one form of exercise is swimming and my diet is vegan. Both minimize the stress on my body, making it possible for me to live an active life.”
For her first-person account of her swims, visit Simmons’ site here.
She will also attempt a crossing at Strait of Juan de Fuca. “I will swim the Marilyn Bell route. It’s a bit scary with the temperatures as it was about 10°C when I was out there on a test run with my crew [this week]. I am keen to give it a go and I seem to be handling it OK, but it’s a really long swim. So one never knows.
But I will learn more about the beautiful world of water that surrounds us and use at as a way to encourage others with Multiple Sclerosis to exercise.”
To follow her training, visit here.
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