When Caleb Kennedy jumped in the water at Banfield Park for Gorge Swim Fest on Sunday, it was the 1,121st consecutive day he’d been swimming outside.
Kennedy, an elementary school teacher, challenged himself three years ago to swim in a natural water body every day from the last day of school to the first. He lives close to the Gorge Waterway, so it’s his go-to spot unless he’s out of town.
When the summer turned into a warm fall, Kennedy just kept going. As the weather cooled, his son bet him that he couldn’t keep up his daily swim until New Year’s.
“I thought, you know, I’m kind of digging this. Let’s see if I can do it,” Kennedy said.
The winter turned out to be colder than usual, but he got through it, and decided he could stretch the challenge to a year. When summer came around again, Kennedy didn’t see any reason to stop.
“I started noticing that I was feeling good. When I was run down, I’d go for my swim, and I’d just feel better almost immediately,” he said. “Now I can’t fathom stopping.”
He’s had to be a little creative to find places to swim when he’s away from home. He’s dipped in the Mediterranean Sea while visiting his daughter in Barcelona, plunged into icy waters in northern B.C., and jumped into a farmer’s swamp filled with leeches in central Alberta, where his father lives.
He has now been swimming outside every day for more than three years, and nearly all of those swims have been in the Gorge. He was joined Sunday by about 1,500 people taking part in the eighth annual Gorge Swim Fest. It was a record number of participants, said Jack Meredith, president of the Gorge Swim Fest Society.
The event celebrates that the waterway is clean after decades of pollution that left it unsuitable for swimming.
Although the water has been safe for swimming for nearly two decades, many people still think it’s unclean, Meredith said. Organizers hope to change people’s perception of the water with the annual event, and encourage people to care about keeping it clean. “This is all about stewardship,” he said.
Groups used to flock to the Gorge to swim during the summer in the early 1900s, Meredith said, but that stopped when the water became polluted from nearby homes that weren’t connected to a sewage system, and from people throwing things into the water instead of properly disposing of them. The water was cleaned up by 2000, thanks to a CRD initiative and the efforts of volunteers.
The annual swimming event was cancelled as a precaution in 2017 when someone reported a smell coming from a creek under Craigflower Road that feeds into the waterway. Meredith said test results later showed the contamination never made it into the Gorge’s water.
Island Health measures the water quality of busy public beaches from mid-May until Labour Day. The water at Banfield Park received a clean bill of health on Friday, Meredith said.