Before I return, I must recall where I’ve been.
It is now 27 years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and since my doctor told me to not exercise. Over that time, I have learned a lot about my body and its potential, but more importantly I have learned about the value of relationships for people living with MS.
Friday December 16 the MS Society of Canada closed the doors to our much-loved Victoria centre as they transitioned funding from people services to research. As a community, we scrambled to stay connected. It was during this time that I began to understand the impact of isolation on people living with MS. Places and times to gather with friends can be lifelines for those who live with disabilities. For some, they give a reason to brave the challenges of venture out into the world. For others, a time of day where they can share their triumphs and challenges with others.
A few weeks after our building permanently closed in Victoria, I decided to do something I thought I would never do – I decided to swim across Juan de Fuca Strait. I wanted to help bring the Victoria MS community together in a positive way. I wanted to raise funds so we could deliver the people-to-people programs we had lost.
On July 29, 2017 I did just that. I left the shore of Dungeness Spit in Washington State in the traditional territory of the Klallam Nation (Coast Salish People) at 7:15 AM and swam across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. At 5:21 PM – 10 hours and 6 minutes later – I landed in Victoria BC at Ogden point in the traditional territory of the Songhees Nation. Soon after, my friend Diane Thompson and I used the funds raised to start the MS Wellness Centre – a non-profit association providing people to people services to those living with MS.
I find myself again concerned about the impact of isolation on people living with MS. COVID-19 lead to a pause in community programs and many of these programs have now ceased. In Victoria we are fortunate as the Wellness Centre has managed to keep people connected virtually and the occasional outdoor activity. Other communities however, where people once gathered to support one another, have not fared as well. Friends have been disconnected from each other for more than two years with no clear path to reconnect.
This year, in an effort to bring the MS community in Powell River together and raise funds for programs in that town, I will be attempting to swim the length of Powell Lake in the traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation. The swim, a distance of 50 kilometres and will start at the north end of the lake and end approximately 24 hours later at Mowat Bay Park. Tentative dates are between August 4th to 7th and 18th to 21st. To my knowledge this is a pioneer swim; there are no known attempts.
This swim is a return for me. It is a return to lakes, it is a return to my main reason for swimming, and a return to the work Diane & I began in 2017.
More to come…