Victoria-based swimmers Susan Simmons and Alex Cape were in Lake Cowichan last weekend to challenge a world record with a 105 km swim attempt on Cowichan Lake. Though the duo stopped short of their goal, Simmons said she’s still happy with the result, as it’s helped them raise both money and awareness for fitness and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Simmons and Cape began their swim at Lakeside Park during the afternoon on July 31. The 105 km swim would have taken them from Lakeview Park to Heather Campsite, back to Lakeview Park, to the northeast arm of the lake near Youbou, then back to Lakeview Park. The swim was expected to take 50 hours and would have broken the previous world record for distance swam in flat water, which was set at 96.5 km by fellow Canadian swimmer Vicki Keith in 1987.
Simmons, who lives with MS, decided to bow out of the swim the next afternoon after making it 44 km. She had become physically sick several hours after the swim began, and with the winds picking up and the waves growing larger, she knew it would be unsafe to continue any further.
“Because I wasn’t able to eat the night before I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the swim,” Simmons said. “The wind was starting to pick up which would have made me sick again. I knew the stress of vomiting wasn’t good on my body. My legs and arms were numb and I thought I had hypothermia, but it turns out that my MS had been triggered.”
After being checked out by a medic, Simmons joined the crew on a kayak, paddling next to Cape and ensuring she remained coherent. As Cape was swimming ahead, the same waves that proved to be a wall for Simmons actually helped propel her further.
Cape continued the swim through to Bald Mountain, remaining in the water for over 48 hours and completing 94 km, just short of breaking the 96.5 km world record. Simmons joined Cape on the last leg of her swim, acting as a lifeguard and keeping her awake.
Despite stopping short of their 105 km goal, the duo were able to raise $15,000 towards MS fitness programs on Vancouver Island, as well as for Special Olympics Victoria. Simmons said that she’s also glad to have been able to push forward her message of exercise being a legitimate form of treatment for MS.
“I know that other people with MS are looking at me as an example, so I want to do everything safely,” Simmons said. “Everyone has a limit, and when you reach that limit you keep yourself safe… Swimming 44 km and for 18 hours when you’re sick speaks a lot to my fitness level with my MS.”
Prior to the event, Simmons and Cape were asking people to post their own “105s,” or personal goals, online. Over 116 people contributed their 105s to the website (www.whatsyour105.com), which were read out to the duo during their swim. Along with providing inspiration, Simmons said that they also helped keep them coherent, as the crew would shout out the person’s name and the swimmers would reply with what they submitted as their 105.
“The number of people pushing themselves farther than they thought with their goals is something that we need to celebrate,” Simmons said.
Simmons also said that she was pleased with the amount of locals who came out to support them with their own goal last weekend.
“This place will always be home to me because of how the people are,” she said.
Simmons and Cape were also in Lake Cowichan in 2013 and 2014, when they completed a 34 km crossing and a 70 km double-crossing of the lake, respectively. While Simmons is unsure if she’ll be reattempting the 105 km swim or another swim on Cowichan Lake next year, she said that she’ll nonetheless be returning again to train.
“You’ll definitely see me swimming in the waves sometime next summer.”