Victoria women swim 34 km across Juan de Fuca Strait

Two paralympic distance swimmers both climbed on to dry land in Victoria on Monday after swimming the entire 34 kilometres of Juan de Fuca Strait.

Jill Yoneda, 42, who wore a wetsuit, crawled out onto the steps at Clover Point at 4:37 p.m., after leaving Dungeness Spit near Port Angeles at 5:59 a.m.

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“It’s a good day for a swim,” said a shivering Yoneda through chattering teeth after climbing out of the 11 C water.

At 5:21 p.m., Susan Simmons strode onto the small beach just north of the Ogden Point breakwater, after leaving Port Angeles at 7:15 a.m.

The 52-year-old, who completed the Juan de Fuca swim in a bathing suit but no wetsuit, showed no signs of the cold, and told members of the media she was hungry and looking forward to a good salad.

But a few moments later, she shouted out that it was time for a beer.

“I never looked at the time. I didn’t want to know the temperature,” she said of her swim. “All I wanted to do was get to the other side.”

Both women deal with potentially disabling illnesses or conditions. Simmons lives with multiple sclerosis and Yoneda with drop foot syndrome and degenerative disc disease in her neck.

Both also completed the swim on behalf of charities. For Simmons, it was the MS Wellness Centre. For Yoneda, it’s a surf camp for Ahousaht First Nation kids.

Yoneda has also undergone nine surgeries on her left leg, the most recent less than two months ago.

Simmons has lived with multiple sclerosis for 20 years and turned to swimming as an activity that allowed her to exercise with less danger of overheating, a trigger for her MS symptoms.

She has already completed a number of other high-profile open water, long-distance swims, including 34 kilometres of Lake Cowichan in 2013.

For the Juan de Fuca swim, both women were accompanied by small boats, kayaks and paddleboards. They were also timed and told to stop every 30 minutes to drink water and have a bite to eat.

But beyond the safety precautions, accompanying boaters didn’t assist either swimmer.

Janice Alton, a friend of Yoneda’s since Grade 2 who turned out to cheer, said she has always admired her friend’s determination.

“She is just phenomenal,” said Alton. “She is made of kryptonite.”

Both swimmers had originally planned to leave on Sunday, but called it off because of high winds.

On Monday, accompanying boaters said the sea was near pond-like, with the wind rising only to about 10 knots, and then only briefly.

Mandy-Rae Krack, who accompanied Yoneda, said the conditions were almost perfect, save for the low temperature.

Krack said she got in the water to swim the last few 100 metres and felt her hands and face go numb.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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