The Spirit Orcas, a group of Greater Victoria swimmers with intellectual disabilities, are taking on the Saanich Peninsula in an epic, 80-kilometre, eight-week journey to raise money for COVID-19 relief. (Courtesy of Susan Simmons)

Spirit Orca swimmers tackle 80-kilometre Peninsula swim for COVID-19 relief

Greater Victoria swimming group starts eight-day challenge July 1

The Spirit Orcas are back at it – this time the Greater Victoria distance swimmers are tackling the Saanich Peninsula “and beyond.”

Led by ultra-marathon swimmer Susan Simmons, the Spirit Orcas is a group of athletes with developmental disabilities. So far the swimmers have taken on the Strait of Georgia, the Gunboat Passage near Bella Bella and Cowichan Lake – the length of which is the same distance as the English Channel.

On Canada Day, the group is fundraising for COVID-19 relief by tackling what they’ve dubbed ‘The Great Big Swim:’ an eight-week, 80-kilometre swim from Brentwood Bay, around the Peninsula and down to the Esquimalt Lagoon. All money raised will go to the Victoria Foundation’s relief efforts for local charities and non-profits.

READ ALSO: ‘Spirit Orca’ swimmers ready for next challenge

“It’s our way of staying physically fit and focused during the pandemic,” said Simmons, an athlete with multiple sclerosis who is well-known in the region for swimming from Port Angeles to Victoria, across Haro Strait, and other ultra-marathon swims. “It’s also our way of hugging our community by raising money and awareness for the Vital Victoria Fund.”

While beautiful from shore, the Saanich Peninsula is far less serene from the unpredictable waters of the Salish Sea. The Spirit Orcas will navigate cold water, tides, currents, wind and waves not to mention ferry traffic.

The swimmers will also have to navigate particularly difficult currents at Trial Island, Baynes Channel and Clover Point. Simmons said the group is working with BC Ferries to ensure a smooth swim and Joint Rescue Command Centre has given the swimmers the go-ahead.

The Spirit Orcas will be accompanied by a fleet of volunteer kayakers, a small motor craft and a sailboat. For anyone who wants to follow along, a ‘spot’ tracker will be available online at susansimmons.ca.

The first leg of the swim kicks off July 1 at noon.

READ ALSO: Victoria swimmer with down syndrome completes 5-kilometre Thetis Lake swim


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