5K Thetis swim seen as inspiration for others with disabilities

A Victoria woman who has Down syndrome hopes her successful five-kilometre swim in Thetis Lake Monday will inspire others living with disabilities to push their limits.

Meliah Motchman has been swimming for about six years, and turned her sights on open-water swimming two years ago. Her coach, Susan Simmons, thinks Motchman is the first Canadian with Down syndrome to swim such a long distance in open water.

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Motchman said she was a little nervous before getting in the water at 10 a.m., but almost two hours into her swim she was feeling happy. She finished shortly before 2 p.m., achieving her goal in under four hours.

“I’m really proud of her. What she’s done is absolutely wonderful,” Simmons said.

Motchman was joined in the water by Simmons, friend Lidia White and three kayakers leading the way. The boats carried food and drinks for Motchman to refuel during the swim. A group of more than 20 family members and friends cheered her on from the beach.

Motchman started her swim from the main beach, and completed three loops around the lake’s large island and back to the beach. She took short breaks while treading water to eat vegan peanut butter and chocolate bars and hydrate with sport drinks. She was not allowed to get out of the water or touch the ground.

Simmons said she’s enjoyed watching Motchman progress as an athlete and develop her focus. Motchman is naturally social, and when she began training, Simmons said she often stopped to chat. “Now she’s able to focus and keep going,” Simmons said.

Simmons, who has multiple sclerosis and uses open water swimming to manage the disease, thinks Motchman’s accomplishment sends an important message to all people living with a disability.

“I find people with disabilities are often told ‘No you can’t.’ My personal message to the world is ‘Yes, we can. And what we’d really like you to do is give us a hand,’ ” said Simmons, who has crossed the Strait of Georgia and the Juan de Fuca Strait and has swum 70 kilometres in Lake Cowichan.

Instead of donating money to a cause, Simmons would like to see more people spending time with others who have disabilities and partnering up to exercise together. She suggested going to the gym with someone who uses a wheelchair or going for a walk with someone who has an intellectual disability.

“Whatever you can do,” she said. “Just start spending time with people who have disabilities and helping them exercise.”

When Motchman finished her swim, she said she was feeling great and wasn’t even tired.

She plans to keep swimming, and pushing herself to greater distances next year, maybe in Cowichan Lake.

“I’m looking forward to next year’s goal, whatever that might be,” Simmons said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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