If you tell Susan Simmons she can’t do something, chances are she’ll take an extreme approach in the opposite direction.
When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, she was told not to exercise because physical exertion is one of the triggers that can cause a debilitating attack. Although the former competitive swimmer hadn’t taken to the water for 25 years, she decided to jump back in with a vengeance.
“At the time I was having problems even walking a block,” explained Simmons, now 51. “I thought I was going to wind up in a wheelchair.”
She believed her experience as a “pretty relaxed” swimmer would help manage the stress levels. Additionally, she changed to a vegan diet, with an emphasis on foods that help limit inflammation, and reduce the energy loss experienced from the body’s processing of foods like meat, which can complicate her condition.
“We’ve been taught since we were kids that diet and exercise are key, but for some reason many of us resist,” Simmons noted.
Since she is convinced that exercise and diet go hand in hand on the path to a healthier life, Simmons started swimming again the same day she became a vegan.
It also seems a natural progression that she now helps organize the HtO Thetis Lake Swim for MS and the Masters Swimming Association of B.C.’s open water swimming provincial championship at Thetis Lake on July 31.
“What I love about Thetis is that the event is a community-based, gentle swim; a great place to start if you’re new to open water swimming,” the James Bay resident said.
“It also has more challenging races for more experienced swimmers. It’s a beautiful lake where most people in the Capital Region train for open water swimming.”
Simmons trains while her partner, Ray Este, paddles nearby in a kayak. Three times a week she swims two- to three-hour sessions, logging six to nine miles each session.
This year will mark the sixth time Simmons has participated in the HtO Thetis Lake Swim for MS. She started out with the 1.5 kilometre race, then swam the 3K the next year and has kept increasing her distance.
“I eventually ran out of lake and had to move on to bigger lakes and the ocean,” she said, having built her distance up to 70-kilometre open water swims. “My mantra is swim if you have MS, and it’s really worked for me.”
Simmons hopes lots of people register to swim or just come out to cheer the racers on.
“It’s a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning,” she said.
You can register for the HtO Thetis Lake swim at thetislakeswim.com. Half of the money raised through donations and sponsors will go toward researching a cure for MS, while the other half supports exercise programs for people with MS in Greater Victoria. This year’s event includes distances of 800 metres, 1.5K, 3K and 5K. In addition, 1.5K and 3K Masters Provincial Championship distances have been added.