Susan Simmons and the Spirit Orcas pictured during a swim meet in 2020. The group will swim a total of 60 kilometres from Jordan River to Colwood in anticipation of eventually crossing the English Channel in future years. (Courtesy of the Spirit Orcas)

Susan Simmons and the Spirit Orcas pictured during a swim meet in 2020. The group will swim a total of 60 kilometres from Jordan River to Colwood in anticipation of eventually crossing the English Channel in future years. (Courtesy of the Spirit Orcas)

Local swim team to stroke 60K from Jordan River to Colwood

Spirit Orcas swims part of preparations for eventual swim across English Channel

Starting this Saturday (June 26), a local swim team will begin swimming the 60 kilometres from Jordan River to Colwood, as preparation for crossing the English Channel.

Ultra-marathon swimmer and Special Olympics coach Susan Simmons and her team, the Spirit Orcas, will attempt four staged 15-km swims amid strong currents, cold ocean temperatures and potential encounters with jellyfish and orcas.

This is part of a long-term training regime that will include circling Hornby Island and crossing the Strait of Georgia (2021), the Strait of Juan de Fuca (2022) and eventually the channel between England and France (2023 or 2024). Spirit Orcas will be the first special abilities swim team to cross the English Channel.

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The Spirit Orcas team consists of swimmers with developmental disabilities, divided into a long-distance J-Pod and mid-distance K-Pod, who practise twice a week off Willows Beach. Last summer, the team swam eight 10-km lengths from Brentwood Bay to Colwood. Simmons started Spirit Orcas several years ago after some of her athletes expressed interest in longer distance swimming, choosing the name to draw awareness to the local orca populations.

Simmons, who works as a provincial public servant, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 30 and started swimming at 40 to alleviate symptoms with cold water temperatures. Her achievements include doing two laps of Lake Cowichan, swimming from Port Angeles, Wash. to Ogden Point, and making the first known crossing of Haro Strait.

This summer’s swim schedule will depend largely on sea and weather conditions but is set to begin this weekend. The first 15-km stretch will go from Jordan River to Muir Creek, with the remaining three segments happening throughout July and reaching Whiffin Spit, Shelter Islands and finally the Colwood waterfront.

“I wanted to keep them busy all summer because, if we don’t have goals, it’s really hard to stay motivated [and] to stay fit,” said Simmons, noting she wanted to give them an exciting challenge that would attract public interest.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this group of athletes that has so many barriers in front of them. They don’t care – they just overcome them. I watch it time and time again where someone feels fearful of swimming in big waves or cold water … and I have nothing but admiration for that. It’s inspiring to watch.”

To track the swims in real-time, visit facebook.com/susan.simmons.775823.


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Spirit Orcas members do laps together at Willows Beach during a routine practice on Thursday, June 24. (Evert Lindquist photo)

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