'Spirit Orcas' set to finish 80-km fundraising ocean swim
Published Saturday, August 15, 2020 1:21PM PDT Last Updated Sunday, August 16, 2020 7:28PM PDT
VICTORIA -- It's the last leg of an epic fundraising journey this weekend for a group of special athletes wanting to make a big splash in the community by raising funds for a good cause.
On Sunday, open-water marathon swimmer Susan Simmons and her group, the Spirit Orcas, will be completing the last 10 kilometres of their 80-kilometre open-ocean swim, dubbed "The Great Big Swim."
The Great Big Swim started in Brentwood Bay in early July. Every weekend since, the group has swum 10-kilometre sections, making their way towards Esquimalt Lagoon.
All of this to raise money for Victoria Foundation's COVID-19 relief fund. So far the Spirit Orcas have raised $3,500 of their $5,000 goal.
Simmons met many of the Spirit Orcas members through the Special Olympics, where she was their swimming coach.
The record-holding marathon swimmer and a youth mentor, Jasmine Kremer, are overseeing the eight group members, who face challenges including autism, PTSD, Down Syndrome and learning delays.
The group spends four to six hours in the frigid ocean water each weekend. Without wetsuits, managing the cold water takes skill: temperatures in the ocean have been ranging from 9 to 15 degrees. And that’s just one of the challenges the Spirit Orcas have had to overcome.
"We've had to deal with currents, waves, jellyfish was another really big one, a surprising one for me to see such a massive jellyfish bloom; managing boat traffic with the ferries, having to swim around the terminal; we've had bogs of seals escort us in and out of bays," says Simmons. "Just anything and everything you can think of has happened to us along the way, but it's been absolutely fabulous."
The idea for The Great Big Swim came from one of the Spirit Orcas members.
The swimmers will set off from Clover Point at 10 a.m. this Sunday morning. They hope to wrap up between 2:30 and 3 p.m. along the Colwood waterfront on the Esquimalt Lagoon. Timing will depend on weather, currents and ocean conditions.
Simmons encourages people to come out and cheer the swimmers on along Dallas Road, on the breakwater and then the beach by Esquimalt Lagoon. She asks that supporters maintain physical distance to keep everyone safe.
"Beyond proud," is how Simmons expresses her feelings about what the Spirt Orcas have accomplished during their fundraising swim.
"I cannot explain how difficult it is to swim in water this cold and to see this community, in particular, embrace this and just take it on; it's unbelievable."
You can find out more on The Great Big Swim and how to donate on Simmons’ website.