No swim is possible without an incredible support crew. I am fortunate to have several people in my life who jump into these swims and wholeheartedly share of themselves and their expertise. I am grateful for their volunteerism.
Mr. Gordon Higgins, Captain/Primary Pilot/Primary Support Craft
Gordon has been sailing the waterways off Vancouver Island for over 30 years. As a teenager he crewed on family race boats through Strait of Juan De Fuca at least 20 times. He spent 15 years crewing on small (26 ft) and large (40 ft) sail race boats including 7 Swiftsure races and 3 Oregon Offshore races. He also delivered boats from Victoria to Astoria, Oregon on 5 different occasions.
Since retiring from racing, 15 years ago, Gordon has been cruising his 34 ft sailboat in San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, Hornby Island, every summer on family trips. Gordon has his Canadian Yachting Basic Competency Certificate, Pleasure Craft Operator Card, Restricted Operator Certificate (Maritime) and recently achieved his first aid level 1.
This is Gordon’s first swim escort. He has been out on the water with me over the months leading up to the swim getting comfortable in his role.
As the captain he will be responsible for providing safe passage across the strait. He will be responsible for all radio and phone communication, Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) liaison, monitoring of nearby vessel traffic, and monitoring of weather conditions. He will decide if the swim is go or no go and will also chart the course. Gordon will be responsible for the overall safety of the swimmer and crew for the entire time on the water. He will make the final call in all safety decisions.
Mr. Matt Piechnik, Secondary Pilot/Secondary Support Craft
Matt has been crewing my swims for 4 years. He has played the role of pilot as well as secondary safety on both my lake and ocean swims. Last year he played an instrumental role when stepping into the pilot’s position during some of the rougher waters in Great Bear.
As a life-long resident of Lake Cowichan he has been on boats most of his life and has been piloting motorized craft for over 20 years. He comes to the swim with VOP, MED A3, ROC-M and Advanced Marine First Aid.
Ms. MJ VanBergen, Swim Manager/Observer
MJ has crewed on a number of all swims including her first ocean swim from West Vancouver to English Bay where I encountered a gray whale along the way. She also served as observer on a women’s relay across the Strait of Georgia and was chief safety for all of my Cowichan Lake swims (35km, 70km and 2 attempts at 105km) and my Great Bear Swim (2 x 25km in Inside Passage).
MJ has her Justice Institute Emergency Management Certificate, Level 2 First Aid, Restricted Operator Certificate (Maritime), Power Squadron Basic Boating Certificate and Pleasure Craft Operator Card.
MJ will assist the Captain in overseeing the safety of the swimmer. She is the person most familiar with the sport of Open Water Swimming. Under the direction of the Captain she will provide backup radio and phone communication, monitoring of nearby vessel traffic, and monitoring of weather conditions.
As Official Observer she will also be responsible for ensuring that the swim is conducted safely and in adherence to the specified rules, in accordance with the spirit of marathon swimming. The Official Observer, along with the Captain has the authority to end the swim due to a technical violation.
Ms. Shawn Stalker, Nurse
Shawn and Susan have known each other for several years through the Victoria paddling community. The first met in the Gorge waterway as their outrigger boats crossed paths. Shawn is both familiar with and comfortable around the water, which is really important as she will be spending and extended period of time on a boat checking on Susan as she crosses the Strait.
Shawn is a registered nurse and has kindly volunteered to provide medical support to Susan and the crew. Although she has not crewed on an open water swim she has provided medical support to a number of outrigger crews including some local paddlers while they were racing in Hawaii.
Shawn and Susan will be flying to Hawaii a few weeks after the swim to race the Queen Lili Ocean Canoe Race in Kona. The water should be a wee bit warmer.
Ms. Pam Loadman, Swimmer/Kayaker/Swim Handler
Pam is an incredible addition to the crew. She has a background in swimming, paddling and sailing. She is a physiotherapist who often helps people with Multiple Sclerosis.
She has been supporting Susan with her swims and the work she does in the Multiple Sclerosis community.
Lane mate to Susan at the Tyee Aquatic Club Masters Swims under Mike Neill, the two have swum thousands of kilometres together over the years. When Susan did her first Cowichan Lake swim (35km) Pam popped in and out of her Kayak switching from paddler to swimmer.
Ms. Claire Skillen, Kayaker/Swim Handler
Claire is a force in the Victoria paddling community. She is a proficient kayaker, outrigger and voyage canoeist, and dragon boater. She has served as stern on a number of teams and has coached both outrigger and dragon boating.
Claire is very familiar with Susan’s normal mental state as well as her as how far she is willing to be and can be pushed in the water. She has provided Susan support when she was mildly hypothermic during a 70km swim and is familiar with some of the other medical conditions that may occur during a long swim.
Ms. Melissa Anderson, Kayaker/Swim Handler
Melissa is a trained lifeguard and occupational therapist. She has worked with people with disabilities for a number of years, including people with Multiple Sclerosis. She is the most familiar with how Susan works through the challenges that may come her way.
Melissa has been crewing on Susan’s swims alongside Claire for 4 years. She was a lifeguard for the Cowichan Lake swims providing support to Susan and some of the other swimmers. She has been by Susan’s side during some of her most difficult times in the water including vomiting and periods of extreme fatigue. Last year while crewing with Claire overnight she played a critical role in keeping Susan both awake and safe during her swim.
Melissa is also very familiar with the Susan’s normal mental state as well as her as how far she is willing to be and can be pushed in the water. She has provided Susan support when she was mildly hypothermic during a 70km swim and is familiar with some of the other medical conditions that may occur during a long swim.
Mr. Raymond Este, Kayaker/ Swim Handler
Ray is a well-known personality in the open water community in Victoria, particularly Thetis Lake where he paddles for Susan as she swims laps around the lake throughout the summer. He has been paddling for her since she began open water swimming eight years ago and has crewed on all of her swims.
Ray took up kayaking about 20 years ago spending his summers exploring the gulf islands. Soon after moving to Victoria he discovered Outrigger Canoeing and became a member of Ocean River Paddle Club where he paddles Victoria’s inner harbour and surrounding waters on a regular basis.
As Susan’s handler (and partner) he shall be the authority on the health and well-being of her during the second half of the swim. He is most familiar with her normal mental state and is able to determine if the swim needs to end due to hypothermia or other medical issues.