Cowichan Lake swimmer nominated for big international prize

One of the women who swam 70 kilometres on Cowichan Lake in August has been nominated for World Open Water Woman Swimmer of the Year by the World Open Water Swim Association.

"It’s going to put Cowichan Lake on the map, I thought that was pretty fabulous," said Susan Simmons, who completed the marathon swim with friend Alex Cape in just over 32 hours. "I’m shocked that I was selected when I look at the calibre of the swimmers that are on there."

Swimmers are nominated anonymously for the honour and Simmons found out last month that she was among 12 chosen. The field also include swimmers from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

"When Alex and I swim we just think we’re going for a really fun swim at Cowichan Lake, try to treat it like that," she said. "But when I look at the calibre of the swimmers I’m very honoured and humbled to have been selected. They’re a pretty amazing group of women."

Simmons and Cape used English Channel marathon rules, meaning they accomplished the feat without wetsuits or swim aids, and qualified for the 24-hour club, a group of open-water swimmers who have completed non-stop swims in open bodies of water for a minimum of 24 hours. Their swim time put them in an elite group of 117 worldwide.

Their distance also put them among the top flat water distance swimmers in the world, as fewer than 10 swimmers on record have swum 70 kilometres or more in a lake unassisted.

"It was a blast," she said of the swim, which saw her battle not only the water and fatigue, but hallucinations and hypothermia.

A driving force behind the challenge for Simmons was to get word out about the importance of exercise for people who have multiple sclerosis.

Simmons, 49, was diagnosed with MS about 20 years ago, and was told at that time not to exercise at all. That made her increasingly unhealthy, she said, so about nine years ago she began to swim. It has made a huge difference in her life.

Simmons said her fight against MS is part of the reason for the nomination.

"It’s nice because this takes it from the Island to the international community," she said. "So it’s bringing awareness on that level."

Part of what made the experience so worthwhile, Simmons said, is the incredible team of community volunteers who helped out and accomplished their own goals. Some paced the swimmers in kayaks, while others joined the two women for a portion of the journey.

This isn’t the end for Simmons. She and Cape have started planning a 105 kilometre Cowichan Lake swim for next July-August.

"We’re expecting it to take about 50 hours," she said of what she describes as a "full tour of the lake."

Simmons said the new venture has already garnered a lot of support, and she’s hoping her awards bid will as well.

Your vote can help Simmons take top spot in the Swim Association awards.

To vote in the public poll, got to www.wowsa.org/vote by Jan. 1 at noon.

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