Susan Simmons, a Canadian swimmer with Multiple Sclerosis, and Alex Cape, will each attempt a 105 km (62.5-mile) swim across Cowichan Lake in British Columbia, Canada beginning on July 31st. If the marathon swimming pair realize their dream, their tandem swim will be the longest solo swim in fresh water on record.
American Ted Erikson and Egyptian Abdel-Latif Abou-Heif both swam 96 km (60 miles) from Chicago’s Burnham Park Harbor to Silver Beach in St. Joseph, Michigan in a 1963 professional marathon race. Canadian marathon swimmer Vicki Keith swam 94 km in a two-way crossing of Lake Ontario in 1987.
Cape and Simmons started focusing on marathon swimming in October 2013 under the direction of coach Danielle Brault of the Victoria Masters Swim Club. Last year, the pair swam an unprecedented 70 km in Cowichan Lake, doubling the length of the lake. The 70 km swim took just under 32 hours.
To increase the likelihood of success this year, they have added 30% more mileage to their training program and completed 1,300 km (808 miles) over the course of this season. Over the past three months, they have each swum around Thetis Lake – their favorite training course – close to 350 times.
The two also re-examined their feeding program for the swim with the vow not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Simmons, who uses veganism along with swimming to manage her MS, said, “This is not the kind of swim you can complete without a solid nutrition program. Last year, I made the mistake of swimming the last 5 hours of my swim on electrolytes alone. The lack of proper nutrition contributed significantly to my hallucinations. We pause and tread water to feed every half-an-hour throughout that swim. That adds up to 100 snacks over the course of a 50 hour swim. I am looking to add a variety of food choice this year; solid foods where I can.”
Escorted by a safety crew and escort kayakers, the pair plan to depart from Lakeview Park at 4 pm on July 31st. A group of friends from the Victoria Masters Swim Club will join them in the water for the first 10 km. Jill Schulz, a friend of Simmons, and Aly White, a Special Olympics athlete whom Alex and Susan coach, will swim with them the first 5 km.
Simmons and Cape should reach the end of the narrows between the South Arm and the main lake by 9 pm. From there, they will swim to Heather Campground throughout the night and then turn around and head back to the tip of the narrows throughout the second day. Once there they will have completed half of the swim. Even through they are planning swimming across the lake, they are not stopping to get out along the way. They just keep on swimming and swimming and swimming.
After reaching halfway, they will swim back down to Heather Campground, turn around, and head back to Lakeview Municipal Beach. Bill Burton, who swam 20 km with them last year, will jump in at Heather and attempt to swim the full length of the lake this year. Pace swimmers will abound, especially towards the end when the women may need the strongest boost. The Victoria Masters Swimmers plan to jump in together for the last 10 km. Even Simmons’ Crossfit coach Deanna Whitney, a non-swimmer, will join her for the last 105 meters.
“With approximately 100 volunteers, this is quite the undertaking,” says Cape. “The number of people who are working hard to pull this event together is amazing. And I’m blown away by the diversity of skills and backgrounds that people are bringing to the group. We are in very good hands.”
Simmons and Cape also feel optimistic about inspiring a good numbers of swimmers, triathletes, and other athletes to discover the joys and challenges that swimming offers. “Ultimately, we’re doing this swim to promote healthy, active lifestyles throughout our community. And what better way to stay fit than to be outside, in beautiful local waters, going for a swim?”
Simmons was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 20 years ago. She has been swimming for the past 10 years to help manage the disease. When she first started swimming, 20 laps of the pool would lead to 2-3 hour naps. Four years ago, she swam with an all-women’s relay team across the Strait of Georgia and has continued to increase her distance in the open water since. “I want people with MS to know that life doesn’t end with a diagnosis and that you can improve you quality of life by staying active and fit.”
Cape, a medical technician in the Canadian Forces, has been swimming for nearly 25 years. She is motivated by fitness and depends on the calmness that swimming offers. Cape loves to coach as well. She is often seen offering suggestions and sharing her passion of swimming with others.
During their training sessions at Thetis Lake, fellow swimmers often jump in and join them for a loop, and an ever-growing list of paddlers have offered to join in as supporters. For more information, visit www.swimmerslastlonger.com.
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