What drives you to do what you do?
I have Multiple Sclerosis. When I was diagnosed over 23 years ago I was told not to exercise or change my diet and became very sick. After 10 years of living with the disease it had progressed to the point where I had difficulty walking a block. The “do nothing” treatment plan was clearly not work so I became a vegan and starting swimming. I have been healing my body since. I am angry that I was told to do nothing and want others to know that being activeand eating healthy is one of the best ways to be better.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in my community. I hear about or watchpeople in my community with disabilities (or diverseabilities) achieve incredible things. I am inspired by their drive.
How do you overcome fear?
I train to overcome fear. I purposefully put myself in situations where I am afraid and work through the fear. If there is risk involved, I make sure I have a plan and safety team with me.
What do you say to people who say ‘I could never do that’ or ‘you can’t do that’?
I say ‘I don’t know if I can, but I know I can try.’ or ‘I understand. I find that all too often we are told you can’t. How about we try to change that to – OK, how can I help you?”
You’ve swum in some remote places. Does one stand out more than others?
Most of my swims have been in British Columbia, Canada – for a reason. It is a beautiful place to live and a spectacular place to swim. Of all of the places I have swum in British Columbia my favorite is in the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk in the Great Bear Rainforest.
How do you train?
In the winter months I spin, swim, lift weights, outrigger canoe and immerse myself in the ocean for 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the temperature. In the spring and summer I swim in the lake and ocean as often as possible. I swim over 1,000 kilometers each year.
Where do you train?
I train with Tyee Aquatic Club and Victoria Masters at Crystal Pool in Victoria. I also training at the Downtown Y in the spin room, weight room and with the YMCA Masters. I often jump in the water of Ogden Point on Sundays in the winter and train at Willows Beach and Thetis Lake in the spring and summer. When I am able I train at Drifter’s Cove on Denny Island in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Do you have a favorite training place?
I love all of the places where I train as each serves a different purpose. If I had to pick a favorite place to swim, it would be the Great Bear Rainforest. The waterways is abundant with life as is the forest. There is so much to
What do you eat to sustain your training?
I am a vegan. I eat a loft of fresh fruit and vegetables. I love eating avocados when I am feeling depleted. As often as possible I eat fresh raw food. For protein I eat hemp hearts, lentils (I love a good dal!), humus and tofu. And I find it hard to beat a warm bowl of coconut rice with kale and eggplant.
Do you take supplements?
Yes. I have a fantastic Homeopath, Lisa Rutherford, who helps me determine the best supplements and remedies for the time of year and event. My constants are magnesium glycinate, vitamin D and a homemade turmeric elixir. During peak training or recovery from a swim Lisa adds a number of other things to my regime depending on my needs.
What about swimming do you love the most?
Freedom. I love the freedom swimming lends my body and it’s healing nature. I love the peace it brings to my world.
What is the longest distance you have swum?
I swam 70 kilometers in Lake Cowichan in just over 31 hours.
What is the coldest water you have swum in?
The coldest water I have been in was 3 Celsius (37.4 Fahrenheit). I was in it for 10 to 15 minutes. My longest cold water swim as in Juan de Fuca Strait where I swam for 7 hours and 37 minutes in water between 9 and 11 Celsius ( 48.2-51.8 Fahrenheit).
Of all of your swims which was the hardest?
I don’t know that I could choose. Each swim has hard aspects to it, and all are so different. I think if I had to choose it would be on those swims where I failed with my most recent being an attempt at a double crossing of Juan de Fuca Strait in 2018. My attempts at 105 kilometers in Lake Cowichan were also very difficult, but for very different reasons.
How do you decide on your swims?
My swims are deeply personal. When selecting a route, I take into consideration
- the impactthe swim will have on the Multiple Sclerosis community
- if there areconservation teaching opportunities
- the impact on the territory’s First Nations community
- if theswim will showcase an at-risk British Columbian and Canadian water way
- if it is a pioneer swim
- the physical challenge and risks.
How do you plan for your swims?
Over the past several years I have worked with my crew to develop plans for each of my swims. I now have a solid foundation that I use when planning each new swim. Once the route is selected I work with my crew to select the best tide window. From there we work with the local community, including Coast Guard and Search and Rescue, to plan the swim. We look at all the of risks and develop plans for working through each of them.
How do you choose your crew?
My crew are part of my community. They are people that I have met at work, through paddling or swimming and all have very specialized skills from piloting, to paddling to lifeguarding and medical. I have a core crew that I work with each year. They work to train others who come along for the journey.
How do you deal with the risks?
My crew and I plan for risks and create mitigation strategies and risk management plans for each risk.
Do you wear a wetsuit?
No. I am a traditional marathon swimmer.
Do you swim with grease on your body?
No. I avoid putting things in the waterway that may harm the marine environment. I try to have as little impact as possible when swimming.
How do prepare for your swims?
The night before my swim I have a massive salad with avocados to nourish my body. In the morning I have a smoothie, which is what I typically have for breakfast. On the way to the site I listen to Ziggy Marley to help me prepare mentally.
What do you eat during a swim?
I eat chocolate peanut butter protein bars, dark chocolate with maca and green tea, cantaloupe, bananas and peanut butter sandwiches. I drink tulsi or green tea and electrolytes.
Have you encountered wildlife during a swim?
Yes, I have encountered grey whales, humpbacks, orcas, seals, jellyfish, and schools of various fish.
What do you think about during a swim?
I think about why I am swimming. I think about all of the people that have helped me and that I am trying to help. I focus on people, in particular the MS and Special Olympic communities, and all they overcome every day.
How do you stay motivated during a swim?
I often think of a specific person in my life and focus on their strength, resilience and ability overcome obstacles every day.
Have you ever thought of quitting during an endurance swim?
Yes. And I have. If I believe my body is at risk during a swim and I may damage my health I immediately stop the swim.
Have you ever failed at any swim?
Yes. I failed to complete a 105km swim in Lake Cowichan in 2015 and again in 2016. I also failed at double crossing of the Juan de Fuca Strait in 2018.
When will you retire from swimming?
I will swim as long as I am physically able. Swimming is my medication. Some people who have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) take “disease modifying drugs.” I have chosen swimming and nutrition as my drugs of choice. If I were to stop, my MS would progress.
Where do you live?
I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.