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Two Victoria swimmers, two epic swims

Once just isn’t enough for Susan Simmons. She is intent on crossing Juan de Fuca Strait two times during an upcoming long-distance swim, which would make her the first swimmer from Victoria to Port Angeles and back in a continuous effort.

Once just isn’t enough for Susan Simmons.

She is intent on crossing Juan de Fuca Strait two times during an upcoming long-distance swim, which would make her the first swimmer from Victoria to Port Angeles and back in a continuous effort.

“It’s never even been attempted,” said Simmons, 53.

Simmons said swimming in cold water like that in the strait helps control her multiple sclerosis, which she has had for more than two decades.

She hopes to start her journey at 11 a.m. on Wednesday from Ogden Point, near the breakwater — but wind will ultimately determine when she hits the water.

Winds of 15 or 20 kilometres will be the likely limit, she said.

“I should arrive by about 11 at night and then I’ll use the lights of Victoria to guide me home,” Simmons said.

She plans to finish at Ogden Point, as well. “It’s a nice place to land. You can go for a beer after.”

On Friday, Victoria’s Jill Yoneda, 43, will take on a similar challenge by attempting a two-way crossing of the Strait of Georgia, beginning at Nanaimo’s Neck Point and turning around near Sechelt.

Like Simmons, Yoneda said her dual attempt is a feat that hasn’t been done before.

The pair has a connection: both did a Port Angeles-Victoria swim last summer on the same day. They had staggered starts and each was in the water for more than 10 hours.

This time around, both expect to be swimming for about 24 hours.

Yoneda is using her swim to raise money for Canuck Place (, while Simmons is raising funds to start a swim program for people with MS (

Yoneda, a competitive swimmer as a child, has become a distance swimmer despite a number of conditions, including ongoing nerve and muscular issues with her right leg, degenerative disc disease and a problem with a rib that pops out of place. All told, she has had 15 surgeries and two disc implants.

Simmons said she stops every 30 minutes during her swims to tread water while her crew feeds her.

“My crew throws me electrolytes or some type of drink that’s got nutrition in it,” Simmons said. “I eat a lot of chocolate-peanut butter bars.

“The goal is to have 300 calories per hour, that’s as much as your body can manage, but I’m using around 700, so I’m constantly working at a deficit.”

Yoneda’s menu when she swims includes peanut butter sandwiches, oatmeal and chicken noodle soup.

Simmons has already conquered the distance she is facing with a 70-kilometre swim in Cowichan Lake in 2013. The upcoming swim is 30 to 35 km each way, depending on which route is chosen due to factors such as tide.

“We try to use the current or the tides to help us,” Simmons said. “And we also have to avoid shipping lanes.”

A sailboat, a small motor boat and a kayak will accompany her.

“We’re trying to keep the crew intimate,” Simmons said.

“I find that it works a lot better for me when I have people that know me really well that I know really well. And a smaller crew is easier to manage from a safety perspective.”

She is often asked if she applies grease or some other substance to her body for warmth, but she doesn’t.

“I don’t want to put any product in the ocean that doesn’t belong there,” she said.

Simmons also swims without a wetsuit — which many people find surprising — because she doesn’t want any benefit from the warmth or buoyancy that wetsuits can provide.

Yoneda wears a wetsuit due to her medical concerns.

Simmons said preparation for her swim has included some “intense” cold-water conditioning near Bella Bella, as well as night training.

“I was in 10-degree water for six hours,” she said. “I was in four hours at nine degrees.”

She expects the water to be 10 C to 12 C during her swim.

“I can’t do a swim like this in Hawaii, it would be too warm,” she said, explaining that it could trigger MS symptoms.

Since last September, Simmons has swum more than 1,000 kilometres in preparation for the endeavour.

She said her body has a way of dealing with cold water.

“At first, just like everybody else, I’m really cold, but then I’ve got this internal furnace that just turns on,” she said. “I can feel my body all of a sudden heating up inside, and as I’m swimming I can feel the warmth of my breath on my face.”

Simmons said she was a swimmer in her youth before quitting at 15, then took it up again 20 years later.

Ocean swimming calls for being wary of jellyfish and other creatures, like whales and seals, she said.

“I had a Grade 3 class do a research project for me, Sangster Elementary, and they went and identified for me all of the potential hazards I might run into.”

If conditions get in the way of an Aug. 1 start, the swim will be put off until Aug. 18 or Sept. 1.

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