I’ve often wondered if I would do less than I do if I didn’t have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Swimming across the Strait of Georgia is definitely one of those things I agreed to do that leaves me wondering where my motivation comes from.

In the spring of 2011 a good friend of mine, Karen, asked if I would join her and two other women (Jennifer and Rhonda; both from Kelowna) in a swim across the Strait of Georgia, a body of water between Vancouver’s mainland and Vancouver Island. We would form an all women’s relay: the Georgia Girls.

The Georgia Strait is a 35 kilometre crossing in 15ºC waters. With each relay swimmer changing each hour, the crossing can take between 9 and 12 hours. My portion of the swim: 3 swims between 3 and 4 kilometres each.

An event like this requires a significant degree of mental toughness, physical fitness, endurance, and a strong will to succeed. These are all qualities I have used to manage my MS. They are also qualities I believe have been strengthened because of my MS.

Training for Mental Toughness

In late May, Karen and I began building our tolerance to cold water by swimming in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Victoria, BC) where temperate were as low as 8ºC.

Looking back at our cold water training, I think it may have helped me reach a new level of mental toughness. Swimming in 8ºC water, even with a wetsuit, causes your feet and hands to cramp. Within seconds they begin to ache until they inevitably they go numb. We quickly discovered it was best to swim a few strokes of head-up freestyle to allow time to acclimatize to the conditions. Once your face hits the water it burns and you find yourself gasping for air.

I was surprised at how much my body hurt after the swims. Even though we were only in the ocean for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, the next day I felt as though I had trained for 3 to 4 hours. Initially I thought my MS was reacting to the severe training conditions but I soon discovered that the fatigue was caused by the excessive amount of energy my body was using to stay warm.

Training for Fitness & Endurance

Throughout the year I had been training with Victoria Masters Swim Club and Ocean River Paddling Club. Both activities were helping me build my fitness and endurance for the event.

Over the Canada Day long weekend (July 1) I tested my fitness level and endurance. ) On Saturday I raced a 20 kilometre outrigger canoe course as part of a six woman crew – this helped me better understand the waves I might encounter. On Sunday I swam a 4 kilometre open water race – this took approximately 1 hour and helped me better understand how I would feel after one leg of the relay. On Monday I kayaked 50 kilometres – this was my ultimate endurance test as it took several hours.

Three weeks later I jumped into the water at the annual Thetis Lake Swim for MS and swam the 5k race and then 1.5 k race 45 minutes later. This helped me better understand how I might feel jumping into the water and second and third time during the strait crossing.

MS motivation and the will to succeed

On August 6, between 8am and 6pm, with the loving support of family and friends, I will swim across the Strait of Georgia with three other women, I will test my MS motivation: my will to succeed.

If you are using fitness or nutrition to battle your disease I encourage you to contact me so we can share your story with others.


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