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NBSV 120


Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 120

Ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons on using veganism to manage M.S. and fuel training

Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 120. Ultramarathon swimmer Susan Simmons is on the show to discuss how she uses veganism to manage multiple sclerosis and fuel her training.

Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. I'm honoured to feature Susan Simmons on the show today, who's an ultra-marathon swimmer. A marathon swim is generally considered to be 10 kilometres, which is 6.2 miles, but Susan’s swims are much, much longer. Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Susan Simmons now lives in Victoria, BC.

Here's Susan's story, in her own words: I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over 25 years ago. I have chosen a lifestyle that manages the disease through physical fitness and diet. My number one form of exercise is swimming and my diet is vegan. Both minimize the stress on my body, making it possible for me to live an active life. Swimming in the open water provides me with a special kind of freedom. Multiple sclerosis is a cruel disease. While one of the best ways for me to manage it is to exercise, exercise is also one of the things that can cause me to overheat and potentially lead to damaging attacks. The open water keeps me cool, where I am free to exercise.

Getting to where I am today has been with many challenges. When I first decided to exercise, I had a difficult time walking a block. My initial pool swims were limited to 10 to 20 lengths followed by a three-hour nap. Over time, I built up stamina and was able to swim for longer and longer periods of time. What soon followed was the ability to participate in other forms of exercise, including kayaking, outrigger canoeing, cycling, weightlifting, and CrossFit. I wholeheartedly believe everyone is worth the effort it takes to be healthy. And for those of us with disease, our first line of defence should be a healthy and fit self.

Susan has completed an impressive number of absolutely stunning feats of swim endurance. For example, in 2014, she swam 70 kilometres, which is 43.5 miles, in Cowichan Lake. In 2017 she swam across the Juan de Fuca Strait in 10 to 13 degrees Celsius or 52 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit water and has the fastest known time to do so. This was a 33 kilometre or 20.5-mile swim. In 2021 she became the first known person to swim from Sydney on Vancouver Island to and around James Island. And that was 14 kilometres or 8.7 miles total - absolutely mind-blowing!

As for Susan's favourite vegan meal, she says, “I like simple, fresh foods. The night before I swam across Juan de Fuca Strait, I had the most delicious salad with avocados.” Hope you enjoy our conversation.

Hi Susan, thank you so much for speaking with me and coming on the show today.

Susan Simmons: Thanks for having me. This is fabulous.

Karina Inkster: I'm very excited to get to know more about your swims and your training and your fuelling on a plant-based diet. Just so our listeners are aware, my friend Gerda, your friend, Gerda, our mutual friend, Gerda, introduced us, and it was actually not for the podcast at all. She is coming up with this amazing swim event that we're doing for a fundraiser for the local SPCA, and it involves swimming from Powell River, which is on the mainland, to Texada Island, which is about five kilometres offshore. And I'm on the relay team portion of that. But there are folks who are doing that full swim. Anyways, she mentioned that this Susan, you know, kind of personality, was going to be on the support team and hey, Karina, you should check out her website. She's amazing! 

So of course, I go and do that and you are amazing. And I realized at that point that you're vegan and my first thought was okay, we have to have Susan on the podcast immediately because it's just a perfect fit.

So I would love to hear a little bit about your background with getting into swimming. So what you do - we know you're a long-distance marathon swimmer. We're gonna get into a little more detail around veganism, MS, fuelling, recovering, all of those things, but why swimming and how did you start?

Susan Simmons: Yeah, that's a great question. When I was 30, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease. And at the time I was told don’t exercise by my doctors because of the risks it presented when you overheat or over-stress your body. It was kind of an unknown. It was not good advice. And I'm a little bit rebellious, just a little, so you know at first I did follow their advice. And then at 40, it was even very difficult for me to walk a block. I had gained a lot of weight, unhealthy weight because I don't feel that weight is necessarily an indicator of health, but I was very unhealthy. And I thought, you know, if I keep at this, I'm gonna be in a wheelchair by the time I'm 50. And I thought I should really try to prevent that if I can. So I had been reading Brendan Brazier’s Thrive book.

Karina Inkster: Ooh, that's a classic.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. Well, the neat thing for me was at 40, I was exhausted all the time and what caught my attention was the idea that meat, cheese, like dairy, things like that, they really take up a lot of your energy. And one way to increase your energy is by becoming a vegan because you're not using it to process your food. And the example I always use is classic Christmas dinner, lots of turkey, nobody's talking after, they're all napping kind of thing. So I became a vegan at that point just to get my energy up enough that I could start swimming. 

And I specifically chose swimming because number one, I had been a swimmer as a youth and I had a passion for the water, although I didn't wanna go back because I hated competition, and that was why I left. But it was something that I did love to do.

And then the other thing was that I knew that I would not overheat, or I may not overheat because I was constantly cooling my body in the water. So at 40, I started swimming, eventually got pulled into a master swim club, and just kept swimming my little heart out and started competing again, and felt I needed to keep myself going. So I started open water swimming, and I just keep going and looking for these incredible adventures and still remain a vegan to this day. I use it to manage my training, but also to manage MS because it seems that minimizing inflammation is really important with any kind of disease or just in general. And also with training, veganism is a great way to do that.

And then there's the passion for animals as well. You know, I've been a vegetarian on and off, throughout different points in my life, but now I feel more - there's a piece that comes with being a vegan and it's hard to explain, but when you've been a vegan for a few years, you seem to go through a bit of a transition in your physical and mental self. And I think vegans know what I'm talking about when I say this; it's a piece that you don't have when you're eating meat.

Karina Inkster: I think that's absolutely right. And so for folks who start the plant-based diet, being vegan, for reasons like health, or minimizing inflammation, or athletic performance, or even nowadays, it's also more and more about the environment and taking a stand to, you know, take action against climate change and all these things. At some point it's pretty inevitable that the sphere of being vegan will include some level of ethical concerns, right? It just happens.

Susan Simmons: Yes.

Karina Inkster: And whether it takes a year or three years, I think what you're describing is a pretty common experience where folks might come to veganism for one very specific reason, but the ethical piece of it at some point becomes part of it.

Susan Simmons: Absolutely.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. So let's talk about your training for a sec. We'll talk about veganism too, and how that factors in of course, but you just said at one point it was really difficult to walk a block, and now you're doing absolutely incredible marathon swims that most folks would just not even consider trying at any point in the next decade, even if they trained for it. So how did you get to that point? I mean, I swim four days a week. I'm not a long-distance swimmer. And I look at some of the distances you've done and my eyeballs just pop outta my head. So how did you get from where you were to where you are now?

Susan Simmons: It was really step by step. So I feel anything in life, like you can't just jump into this massive change in your life. You gradually get there. So I started by swimming 20 lengths a day, and then it came up to 40. Then I started swimming with a group. Then I swam with a group twice a day, started competing. My first open water swim was one and a half kilometres. And then I did three, then five, then the following year, the fourth year in it was one and a half and five during the same day. So a little bit more. Eventually, I did 10 and every year adding more. Then I did 35. And the most I've ever done is 70 kilometres in one go, which took 32 hours.

Karina Inkster: Wow.

Susan Simmons: So a marathon in swimming is 10 kilometres. In running it's different. A marathon takes about two and a half, three hours. So that was an ultra marathon and I loved it. I loved every minute of it. And I'm so grateful that I had all of that time in the water with all those people around me. This year I'm looking at doing a 50-kilometre swim. We'll see how I do. I haven't done that distance in a while.

Karina Inkster: That's incredible.

Susan Simmons: So yeah, just bit by bit. Do a little bit, up it every year. Just keep going. And I've changed it up a few times. I went from lake to ocean. So I started in warmer water and eventually went to very cold water. Went up to the central coast in Heiltsuk territory near Bella Bella, known as the Great Bear Rainforest as well. I swam over a hundred kilometres over time up there and eventually swam across Juan de Fuca Straight, which is around 11 degrees celsius. So really started playing more with temperatures and adding a bigger challenge each time. So I just try to change the challenge each time I go in.

Karina Inkster: That's a good way of looking at any sort of intense goal that someone might have. You know, learning an instrument, getting to a certain level of strength training, any sort of these things are not gonna happen overnight. And your approach, you know, okay, started with one and a half K. Then I went to three, then I went to five. Yeah, this is a long term approach. And your like the poster child of consistency, which is super impressive.

Susan Simmons: I didn't realize that was gonna happen. It just kind of evolved. And I know for myself, I get bored. If I do the same thing over and over and over again, and I loved the people I was swimming with and competing with, and I came to a place of peace with that, but it was the same thing over and over again. And I thought, I just need to do something different. And now the focus is swimming in different territories throughout British Columbia. We live in this incredible province with both beautiful ocean and lakes. Like it's just absolutely stunning and I have so many opportunities to do these wonderful pioneer swims. You know, when first I did open water swimming it was kind of competitive open water. Then it became more marathon, traditional marathons. And now it's really about the adventure and experiencing nature and learning about the community that I'm swimming in. And it's just a wonderful way to learn about our province.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That's pretty amazing. So for folks who might not get what a marathon swim is, cuz I think most folks kind of have an understanding of how long it takes to do a running marathon, for swimming, it's a completely different situation and our distances are shorter for the same amount of time as running, of course. So, let's use 10 K as an example - so you did mention this a little bit earlier - in an ocean setting as well, which takes longer, cuz you're dealing with waves, you're dealing with currents, which you don't have in a pool, what's a timeframe for doing a 10 K swim?

Susan Simmons: It really depends on the conditions. For myself, it took three hours and 15 minutes. That was swimming from West Vancouver to Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. So, you know, we had ideal conditions on that day. It was fine, but I've been in other swims that are 10 kilometres that have taken longer because I'm fighting current, I'm fighting waves, and I'm fighting wind. So that's part of the joy of it. You just never know what's gonna happen. Well, you try to know what's gonna happen before you go out there. But sometimes you're fighting elements. And other times, like when I swam across Juan de Fuca Strait from Port Angeles to Victoria, I swam 33 kilometres, and it took me 10 hours in six minutes.

Karina Inkster: Wow.

Susan Simmons: And on that day, that's the fastest known crossing of that body of water. There's I think five or seven of us that have swum it ever. And I think part of why it was the fastest was because I had such great currents and an amazing pilot who helped me ride into the centre and then get pushed to the shore.

Karina Inkster: Mm, well this was actually my next question is what kind of support boat or otherwise do you have when you do these marathon swims?

Susan Simmons: I have the most joyful, wonderful, incredible group of people that surround me with the biggest hug a girl could ever ask for.

Karina Inkster: Awww.

Susan Simmons: Usually I stick with a sailboat or a motorized boat that's not putting a lot into the waterway. I'm very sensitive to the environment, especially when I'm in the ocean because of the whales. So in the Juan de Fuca Strait, I used a sailboat and then I've got one or two kayakers that are also beside me. Every half an hour I'll pause. I don't touch the boats or anything like that. I just tread water and you know, they pass me food and liquid. So I'm nourishing my body and then we carry on and we keep going like that throughout the day. The sailboat is there to carry supplies, also to chart the path and just in case of an emergency.

Karina Inkster: Smart move. So Gerda was telling me that you're gonna be on the support team for our swim that we're doing in July, which is super exciting.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. I've been trying to share some of my plans with her as to what it is that I’m, like I've had a lot of different swim plans, safety plans, and I've shared the documents with her. So just what I think she needs to consider. So she's swimming from Texada to Powell River, or vice versa. Just understanding the currents, how they're gonna push you, what boats are in the water, who you need to contact, make sure the coast guard knows, things like that. 

And then I kind of wanna be in the boat as she's swimming, either kayaking beside her and encouraging her along the way or in the powerboat doing the same kind of thing. And just making sure that, because I think this is new for folks in Powell River, I just wanna make sure everybody's prepared and just aware of all the things that could happen. Sea lions could come up. I've had humpbacks and orcas on my swims, things like that. And just how to swim through that without kind of getting too freaked out by it.

Karina Inkster: Right. I have a friend here in town who was just like, well, what do you have to plan? Like you literally just swim. What's the big deal? Why are you having a team meeting for an hour and a half - which we did just last week. But there's all these details like you just described, right? Food breaks, folks on motorized versus unmotorized boats. And we're gonna have possibly a paddle border as well, just for different vantage points. So there's all these things to consider: how to communicate with the swimmers if there's something they should know, and vice versa. Counting someone's stroke count, and if it gets too slow, it's kind of the first sign of hypothermia. Like all these things that I never would've considered before. There's a lot of details that go into this.

Susan Simmons: Yes. If you’re swimming, even with a wetsuit, but typically I swim without a wetsuit in these waters, and one of the very first things I do is train my crew up on how to deal with hypothermia, because it doesn't look the same in the water as it does on land. You can’t compare. So there's other things that you have to watch for. There's little tests that you do, including making sure that somebody is eating and then when you're in the waves prone for three to four hours, you can get nauseous. So you wanna make sure that people are eating. If they're not eating, you might wanna consider taking them out of the water because again, they could be risking their health and we should never put ourselves at risk when we do these events. We should really be taking care of our bodies.

Karina Inkster: Well, speaking of taking care of our bodies, how does veganism factor into this? So tell me a little bit about how it factors into MS specifically, if it does, and then how it's providing you fuel for your training.

Susan Simmons: Sure. So I'm not a doctor. I can only base it on my own personal experience. And I am of the belief that everybody is different and has to find their own path. I chose veganism to get the energy up, but now with MS, I find that if I, you know, junk out for a few days, cuz we all have those days where we just kind of like, no, don't feel like cooking something healthy today. I just start feeling my symptoms creep up on me. With my MS, I get fatigue. I might get tingles, things like that. I feel that it keeps my inflammation down from my disease. So it makes it more manageable. It's not a cure. But it just helps me live in a healthful way with it. And it makes it possible for me to be able to train.

Karina Inkster: Hmm.

Susan Simmons: So if I wasn't vegan, I may not be able, I don't feel I would be as healthy as I am and I wouldn't be able to train these crazy amounts. Like for example, this weekend I did a 10-kilometre swim. Last weekend it was 15 or 17 kilometres, you know, that six hours of training in one day without stopping, except to nourish kind of thing. So yeah. I just feel that it's made all of that possible. And when I'm swimming, like on a long swim, whether it's training or it's an actual event, it's typical kind of marathon stuff, right? 150 calories used every 30 minutes, whatever you can kind of get down that’s nutrient-rich. I use peanut butter protein bars, well, chocolate peanut butter protein, because I personally believe chocolate and peanut butter are the most fabulous combination I could ever ask for.

Karina Inkster: Oh I'm with you on that! I just had a dark chocolate peanut butter cup, like 10 minutes ago. So yes!

Susan Simmons: There you go! So every half an hour, I'm having that along with a little bit of green tea caffeine. That keeps me alert. So I'm the type of athlete that functions more on caffeine than sugar. So I'll have the protein and then I'll have the green tea caffeine. And then on my next break, I may or may not have food depending on how I feel. I might have a gel pack if I need to. I try not to do too many of those. But if I have to, I will. I could have a little bit of a banana, and towards the end of the swim, I tend to like to have cantaloupe because it cleans my palette. And if you've been eating protein bars all day, at a certain point, even though it's peanut butter and chocolate, you don't want any more of them.

Karina Inkster: I can only imagine! Gerda was showing us some of the things that she uses. And of course, this is a very individualized approach and I'm sure this is something you've tested over the years and you know, tweaked and experimented with, and she has this organic baby food. It all needs to be fairly easy to digest, so it actually makes sense, but I never really considered that as almost like a gel replacement you know? Like it's got lots of nutrition - it'll keep you going, it's easy to digest. And I never really considered that until our meeting last week.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. That's wonderful. I know that some English channel swimmers are using chia pudding as well because it's very sustaining. The only thing is, I think chia has tryptophan in it, so you might get a little bit fatigued. Not too much though, cuz you're in cold water, so that should keep you up. But things like that are really good to have. Again, you can do a chocolate peanut butter combination. So having things like that, homemade baby foods. Any kind of soft food that you don't have to chew because when you eat, you're treading water, you can't hold the boat. You're just kind of there on your own. So you wanna be able to make sure it's easy to eat. You don't want something that you could potentially choke on as well. Cause you've gotta get it down within 10 to 15 seconds. When you're running, you can chew and run at the same time to a degree. When you're swimming, you cannot chew and swim. It becomes a little dangerous.

Karina Inkster: Definitely. Especially because you're horizontal versus upright. That's a very different situation right there. So do you think about pre-workout fuelling and post-workout recovery as well and how that kind of factors into your training?

Susan Simmons: Yeah. I'm constantly thinking about things like that. Sometimes, like for example, on the weekend swim, I did not eat before. It was intentional because there could be a point in time when I'm swimming and there's a lot of waves and currents and I'm not able to get at my food. I've just gotta power through it. So I wanna be able to go for a few hours without any kind of fuel in my body, but I did eat during the workout. And then post-workout I try to do high protein. I have a recovery drink with turmeric and things like that, just to try and settle my body a little bit. And then some type of high protein meal after. For a few years, my favourite thing was just to have a bucket of hummus was some pita, like some brown pita bread.

Karina Inkster: And a bucket of hummus. That is the appropriate amount for hummus.

Susan Simmons: Well swimming is such an interesting sport. I like to say that we swimmers eat a lot because you're in the cold. I think we eat more than other athletes and it is a problem when you quit because a lot of times we end up still eating those amounts and not managing our weight. But yeah, you're super hungry when you get out. You can't keep up with the hunger. It’s just going. So even today, like normally I have my smoothie at about 10 o'clock in the morning. I don't like to have it first thing. I had it at eight o'clock today, I was still hungry from yesterday. So yeah. So just whatever, as much nutrition, I put a lot of greens in my smoothie as well. They get those micronutrients back into my body as much as I can, anything high nutrition.

Karina Inkster: So what's, what's a go-to higher protein meal that you would have?

Susan Simmons: The easiest thing for me to have with high protein is to make a smoothie with a lot of protein and add greens. And that's because I can get it down really quickly. A lot of times I do soups with tofu in it as well, especially in the colder months. If I'm coming out of an ocean swim, I might wanna have soup with tofu. Sometimes chia pudding, I'll have something like that. It's kind of all over the map. I'm not doing as much hummus now. I think because of my age I found it was sticking to my bottom too much and I needed to manage the calories a little bit differently. I don't seem to do well with beans. They stay in my stay on my hips, so to speak.

Yeah, but my favourite, favourite meal of all and I've I used this before I swam across Juan de Fuca -we were on the sailboat the night before at Dungeness Spit waiting to go out the next morning. And my friend MJ made me the most incredible salad, so beautiful. All these different greens and things in it and avocado with a fig dressing and I was in heaven! And that swim was probably one of the easiest swims of my life. And it's supposed to be one of the most challenging swims in the world. So sometimes it's better to go with light food when you're swimming rather than something heavy because it can really weigh your stomach down. I guess it just had all the right nutrients in it. It seemed to work really well. So yeah. So I love salad. Salad salad!

Karina Inkster: See, this is a very different situation to people who run or do strength sports and aren't horizontal for hours on end where it matters how much and what type of food you have in your stomach.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. I think again, that's an individual thing. I think everybody is different. The big thing for me is that you get a lot of nutrition the night before, that it's healthy food. And the day of that you’re having what you need to keep you going. If you're somebody that typically eats a lot of salad, having a big heavy meal the night before won't be a good idea. If you're used to having those big heavy meals, then yeah, it would probably work for you. You know, it's just like bananas for me. A lot of people eat a lot of bananas and I have one swimmer that I train and he'll eat bananas the entire swim. He’ll be there for four or five hours and just keep going through bananas. And they're just too sweet. I can't do that.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Well again, it comes down to having figured out what works for you and you've got the experience behind you. You now know to a pretty detailed degree what's going to work in most cases I assume.

Susan Simmons: Yes, it is an experiment and sometimes I switch food and whenever I do it doesn't work well. And my crew has reminded me of that cuz I have been pretty sick on a few swims, which isn't uncommon for a long, long swim. But some foods seem to work better than others.

Karina Inkster: Hey, so I have asthma too. This is kind of a question for personal interest. Does that affect your swims? I have seasonal asthma, but it's like six months out of the year cuz we have allergies here like basically from, I don't know, February to September. So does that have a big effect on cardio capacity? I find like, this morning at the pool, I was just wheezing when I normally wouldn't be. It really affects things.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. It does. (Coughs) As you can see, sorry.

Karina Inkster: That’s okay.

Susan Simmons: We have a lot of buds coming out right now. So part of me, I think what it affects the most is sprinting.

Karina Inkster: Ah, okay.

Susan Simmons: So sometimes I need to sprint to bring my speed up. I'm pretty happy cruising at about 70% most of the time. But you know, I'm getting slower from doing that for a few years because I've been training on my own. So when I sprint, I tend to cough quite a bit, and have to have an inhaler. There's no way around it, just gotta work with it. So I try to remember to keep on top of them during this time of year. And lo and behold, I did not take my inhaler this morning and this is a result of that. So I apologize to you for that.

Karina Inkster: Oh, that’s okay. No problem.

Susan Simmons: But yeah, like you tend to cough a lot. I know a few other swimmers and same thing. And the other thing is that when swimming in a pool, like as you breathe, that's where the chemicals are sitting, right above the water, and you're breathing that in. So it's not uncommon for swimmers to have asthma just because they're around that all the time. So it's always a nice relief when we get into the warmer months and I can pop into the ocean and the lake.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. I'm definitely a warm water type person. So part of me is like, what the hell did I get into with this open water swim, where it's so deep that the temperature really doesn't change that much from season to season. So, you know, I'm kind of like there's supposed to be a training swim in April, which is like three months before I would usually venture out into the ocean, with a wetsuit mind you. I always kind of look at folks who are in cold water like yourself for long periods of time and I realize that also has been a process of practice and training. And you know, you're not just one day gonna decide to spend four hours in the ocean, I assume.

Susan Simmons: No, actually when I first cold water trained, it was cold water training for Juan de Fuca. I had announced I'm gonna do this swim. And then I went out to train and I went in the water and I ran out crying and got in the car and spoke to my partner. And I just said that I'm never gonna like, I can't do this. How am I gonna do this? It's too cold. It hurts. And went home and just did some soul searching and then went back the next week. And very methodically started training myself for water that cold. You know, I think when you're swimming it's in the summer, so the Strait of Georgia, the water temperature does change a lot more than Juan de Fuca. I would anticipate it'll be somewhere between 20 and 22 and pool waters are about 26 to 28. So you should be okay, but in April it’s 10 to 12 degrees, that's pretty darn tootin’ cold.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. That is something I am not prepared for with my nice pool swims and you know.

Susan Simmons: Well, it's very good for you, for athletes. Coldwater is wonderful for recovery. So if you've had a very intense session, it's good to go to the water and walk in and just submerge yourself for two to three minutes. And you'll see a lot of athletes taking ice baths. We don't need to do that. We can just go in the Straight of Georgia.

Karina Inkster: Well, my coach colleague, Zoe, we both train our clients together, is very into cold dips and getting used to cold water and the benefits that it has. And she has not yet successfully convinced me to join this concept. Maybe one day.

Susan Simmons: Well, I might have to come out in April and convince you to not just walk in, but stay in for a few minutes and reap the benefits. There's a lot of mental health benefits too, as well. And for myself, with MS, we have depression. It's known that our dopamine levels are a lot lower and that's probably part of why I like training so much, to keep my dopamine levels up. But cold water is a quick fix, you know? I can cure the depression pretty quickly, or the blues, when I pop into the water.

Karina Inkster: I think that's a pretty common theme for folks who do that regularly. There's a group here in Powell river that go every day, 365 days of the year. They time it based on tides and they're out there for slightly varying amounts of time based on the water temperature. But a lot of what you're saying is a theme in why some of these folks are doing it so regularly.

Susan Simmons: Yeah, no, I think that might be the Powell River Popsicles?

Karina Inkster: That's them.

Susan Simmons: And I have had the honour of swimming with them a few times. They're an incredible group of mostly women. They've brought me down to, I think it's called Willingdon Beach. And then I've also been at Mowat Bay with them. They're just amazing because especially during COVID that ritual of going into the water, of connecting with people in a safe environment and things like that, it's been lifesaving. There's three or four groups here in Victoria now that have popped up. We have Coldwater Addicts group of swimmers out in Sooke, some swimmers in Courtney, like they're all over the place and they have fun. They do these midnight dips or full moon dips and things like that. And they're just helping each other and being a great community together.

Karina Inkster: That's pretty amazing. Well, you're kind of moving me toward the possibly one day being convinced trajectory. I usually swim at Mowat Bay in the summer. That's where I do most of my lap swimming, but like starting in June, not April.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. I'm kind of curious as to the temperature of that lake. I figure it gets pretty warm at a certain point. I'm entertaining right now and looking into swimming the length of the lake.

Karina Inkster: Oh, wow.

Susan Simmons: In August. It's around 50 kilometres. So I'm just right now trying to connect with the first nations community to seek permission from them and make sure they're okay. And if they're comfortable with it, if they can identify any areas in the lake where it's better for me not to go. I know when I swim in Great Bear, I like to avoid certain parts and definitely keep certain things off-camera if it's a sacred land or things like that. So yeah, I'd love to swim there with you one day and see - hopefully it's not 10 to 12 degrees because I think I'll be in the water for about 24 hours.

Karina Inkster: That’s incredible.

Susan Simmons: A toasty 20 would be nice.

Karina Inkster: Yeah, no guarantees. Everyone always says Mowat Bay is colder than the ocean, so.

Susan Simmons: Really? Wow. Uh-oh!

Karina Inkster: You'll have way more expertise in this than I do, but it takes a long time for it to warm up apparently. When it does, it's great. I mean, you know, August actually might be the best month to do it. But yeah, it's just kind of notorious for like, why are you swimming at Mowat Bay? Why don't you go to Willingdon? It's warmer.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. Well, that's very interesting. Good to know.

Karina Inkster: Not sure if that's actually legitimate because I went to swim at Wilingdon Beach and it just seemed exactly the same amount of cold. It was just cold, everywhere. Our pool was closed during the pandemic for, I think it was like five months or something. And I just got to a point where I was like, okay, you know, what? This is getting ridiculous. I'm buying a wet suit and getting into open water swimming, which I had never been into before. It was all pool swimming. And so COVID kind of made me do it because I didn't have a pool to use. So I had to go open water swimming and I do enjoy it. But I'm by no means expert level, still very beginner in the open water world.

Susan Simmons: Yeah. It's great. It's like veganism. It doesn't matter why you started, you know, you just go on the journey and see what happens with it. And look now you're gonna be doing a swim.

Karina Inkster: That’s true. Never thought that would be happening.

Susan Simmons: There you go.

Karina Inkster: Well, Susan, it was so great to speak with you. Can you let our listeners know what the best way of connecting with you is? Is it your website?

Susan Simmons: Yeah. You can go to and my email and social media links are there. If you know anybody with MS that's curious about exercise or swimming, I encourage you to put them in touch with me. I'm always wanting to talk to them and just help them along the way if possible. And if they have any questions about any of the swim safety stuff and the cold water, that too, I'm always happy to share whatever knowledge I have.

Karina Inkster: Amazing. And one more quick thing you did mention earlier that you were coaching someone. So is that a service that you offer to folks for swimming, specifically open water?

Susan Simmons: Yes. I coach Spirit Orcas. The Spirit Orcas are a group of intellectually disabled swimmers or diverse, they have diverse abilities, who swim in the open water. But now I've started, I've kind of transformed the club so that they now have the opportunity to assist me with coaching and they are coaching other open water swimmers. So people can connect with us. I'm trying to coach in Victoria, Nanaimo, and Powell River if people are interested. I've got a group called Swim Gift. It's a free online Facebook page where people can come and I put up workouts for the week. And with the goal of people swimming anywhere from one to 10 kilometres at the end of the season. In the same way that Gerda is doing it, you would swim for a charity. So we give you the gift of coaching and we ask that you give back the gift of fundraising to your community.

Karina Inkster: Oh wow. What an interesting setup. I love that. I'm gonna have to join that group by the way.

Susan Simmons: Absolutely.

Karina Inkster: Amazing. Well, so great speaking with you, Susan. I can't wait to meet you in person, possibly even this weekend if you're here in town, and cannot wait to get this episode out! It’s gonna be amazing for our listeners. And thank you so much for speaking with me.

Susan Simmons: Well, thank you for creating a space for people to share their stories. It's wonderful.

Karina Inkster: Susan, thank you again for joining me on the show. I loved speaking with you. Head to our show notes at to connect with Susan. Thanks so much for tuning in.

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