Swimming From Quebec to New Brunswick

Photo Credit: Carol Levesque

Written and contributed by Jill Mersereau

“We are all capable of so much more than we are able to comprehend. Have complete faith in all that could go right.”

These words, written on the website of an organization that hosted fund-raising swims from New Brunswick to PEI, were the catalyst that inspired me to undertake my own epic swim. I had wanted to participate in a marathon swim for quite some time but hadn’t had the courage to try. Jellyfish, currents, cold water, money, finding a kayaker, and countless other factors all seemed to be barriers standing between me and my dream. Yet upon reading these words, all of that slowly began to fall away and my plan began to take shape.

A Passion for Swimming

I have always enjoyed the water. My mother took me to swimming lessons when I was just a baby, where the instructor encouraged parents to drop the babies into the water and watch them swim. My sister wasn’t so lucky. She was dropped and sank like a rock, which may be what lead to her to hate the water for years afterward. I took swimming lessons until I was a teenager, however, peer pressure and the awkwardness of being in a bathing suit around other teens lead me to quit, a decision I regretted later in life. As a young adult battling anxiety and depression, I found the pool to be a comforting oasis away from my troubles and worries. I discovered a type of meditation that arose through focusing on strokes, breathing and counting laps. Gliding through the water I found peace, and the longer I swam, the better I felt. I joined a morning Masters Swim Club, and the extra energy I gained made me want to accomplish more with my time. I went back to school as a mature student, and eventually graduated at the top of my class with an honors degree in Anthropology. After realizing how much of a mood-changer swimming was, I also took up running, then decided to try my luck at triathlons. This opened the door to a wide variety of other sports which I fell in love with: mountain biking, road biking, skate skiing, cross-country skiing, recreational boxing, and sailing. I was never great at any of these sports, but I loved how they took me away from myself and put me in a happier place. Through it all, swimming remained my first love. The triathlons had sparked a deep passion for open water swimming, and it turned out I was actually pretty good at it. I usually emerged middle of the pack in the swim portion of triathlons and where other triathletes generally dread the open water, it was always my favorite part of the race. In 2015, at the age of 37 while living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I decided to get serious about swimming. I joined another Masters group and trained for several hours, three or four times a week, sometimes more. I signed up for a 1.5k open water race in Saint John, New Brunswick, and to my shock, came in second in my division. I knew it was time to take it to the next level. A Facebook ad for a Barbados swim festival in November kept popping up whenever I logged into the app. I tried to get a few local swimmers to join me, but it seemed as if everyone had spent their travel budget for the year. It looked like I would be going alone. It would be a great adventure. A couple of weeks later I went for a swim with a couple of friends, both of whom were strong athletes and strong swimmers. It was supposed to be a friendly 1.5k practice swim, but as I watched my male friend lead I decided I wanted to pass him. I reached deep down for strength and overtook him on a corner. Moving my arms and legs as fast as they could go, I quickly advanced, leaving him in my wake. I could hear our kayakers laughing, but all I could focus on was the sight of the shore and the sun overhead. As I pulled myself up onto the sandy beach, panting and smiling, our kayakers shouted things like, “check her suit for engines!” I had achieved a new personal record (PR) and it felt amazing. I knew I was ready for the Barbados Swim Festival in November. I kept training for Barbados at Killarney Lake, a local lake, by myself, and with whoever would join me. My latest swim of the year was October, by which time my brain felt like it would freeze if I stayed in too long. I shifted the training over to the indoor pool, not wanting to get acclimatized to cold water when the ocean in Barbados was reported to be around 28 degrees Celsius. I was training hard and I knew I would be ready. November felt like it couldn’t come fast enough. I landed in Barbados with no idea what to expect. I had booked a 35 dollar-a-night Airbnb room near the beach where we were to train, just outside of Georgetown. The ticket agent in Fredericton looked at me funny when he found out where I was going. “Just don’t go out at night,” he had warned me. As my taxi got closer to my destination, I started to have doubts. Houses turned to what by Canadian standards would be considered shacks, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I knew there was another Canadian woman staying at my Airbnb and attending the swimming festival, so at least I wouldn’t be alone. Finally, the taxi inched its way up a narrow street and the driver told me we were almost there. The house was large, with barred up windows, and surrounded by a wall and fence. My host, Manuel, came out to greet me and take my bags. Inside, it was surprisingly quite nice. Manuel had told me through our communication that his daughter was Lani Cabrera, a national swimming champion and Olympic contender. It turned out I would be sleeping in her room, as she was away at college. Above the bed was a shelf of swimming trophies. Waking up to see that each morning inspired me to push myself further each day in our practice swims and during the final two races. The Airbnb house was host to five other visitors, plus Manuel and his wife Shirley. The hosts grew sprouts in a large machine in their industrial type kitchen, which they sold to grocery stores across the island. They were generous with their time and wisdom, taking us to get groceries, showing us the best beaches for solo travelers, and giving us directions and advice when needed. The other guests were there for business, school, or pleasure, and mostly kept to themselves, although we had a few suppers together with lively conversation, shared food, and local beer. For the most part, I spent my time at the beach with Erin, the other Canadian guest who had come for the swimming festival. Guided 2km swim practices took place every afternoon, followed by feasting at various locations throughout the island. My favorite was a swim at what was called Miami Beach followed by a meal at the local fish fry afterward. Swimming in the tropical water was like swimming in an aquarium. Bright colored coral peppered the bottom of the ocean floor, sea fans danced in the waves, and tropical fish were within arm’s reach. If we got lucky, we would spot one or two sea turtles on our swims as well. It was hard to focus on swimming fast when there was so much to see. During one swim which started at a yacht club, I felt something pricking me, almost like the tag of my bathing suit digging in. I was told after it was sea plankton, which had tiny stingers. After three days of swim practices, we were used to the warm water, knew how to protect ourselves from the sun, and were ready to race. A swim clinic was held Saturday morning by Alex Meyers, US silver Olympian. Alex’s race was the 10k, and he told us he could do it in under 2 hrs. I couldn’t imagine being able to swim that fast or that far, but I started to think of at least attempting it. I was racing 5k the next day, which would be the most I had ever swum, but I knew that if I could do that without getting too tired, 10k would be manageable. The 1.5k race on Saturday afternoon was fun but chaotic. Recreational (non-timed) swimmers swam alongside competitive swimmers, and there were over 150 in the race. Recreational swimmers were allowed floatation devices and fins, and I was kicked in the face several times by a fin and swallowed quite a bit of salt water. I was glad when it was over, but utterly exhausted from fighting the crowd. Nevertheless, the finish was inspiring to watch. I saw parents swimming alongside children, swimmers with disabilities competing with the help of guides, and even an 85-year old Masters record holder, helped out of the water by a member of her Australian swim team. As the final swimmers exited the water and the sun was setting, the race organizer announced over the mic his favorite verse: “The race is not given to the swift nor the strong but he who endures until the end.” It was a great day and I couldn’t wait for the 5k. I woke up Sunday still exhausted, perhaps having pushed myself a little too hard during the week. I would start the 5k at 9 am, grab a quick bite to eat when I was done, then head to the airport for the long flight home. As I stood in line to get my cap and body numbering, all I could think about was how tired I was, and wondered how I was about to swim for a few hours. I hoped yesterday’s issue with congestion wouldn’t be a factor in that day’s swim. As I swam out to the start buoys, I focused on what a great week it had been, how I had met so many incredible people, and how I hoped to return some day. When the gun went off I began to swim, and slowly my goggles filled with water. I emptied them out, but again they filled with water. My regular goggles weren’t tinted, so these were loaners from my housemate. I tried swimming with my eyes half shut and feared I would have to drop out of the race. Luckily they seemed to stop leaking after the first 100 meters or so, and I was able to focus on my breathing and find my pace. Before I knew it, I was leading a pace group, with five swimmers falling in line close behind me as we swam our three laps around Carlisle Bay. I could feel them at my feet and saw them on the turns. I felt like we were a flock of geese, each progressive swimmer benefitting from the movements of the swimmer in front of him or her. We swam together for most of the race and at one point I looked down and saw a beautiful sea turtle. I wanted to stop and shout at my pace group to have a look, but at the same time didn’t want to break up the group. Instead, I paused my stroke to point down, hoping the swimmers behind me would notice and enjoy the moment.

Barbados Open Water Festival — Photo Credit: Caribbean Aerial Photography

I breathe to the right, so when heading away from our starting point I saw nothing but the vast turquoise ocean and boats with passengers cheering for us. Heading back towards the starting buoy on each of the three laps I could see spectators on the beach, drinks in hand, with palm trees gently blowing in the breeze. The sun was bright and after a couple of hours I could feel my sunscreen wearing off and my skin slowly starting to feel the effects. Despite this, and despite the salt water parching my mouth, I felt nothing but a deep, all-encompassing sense of gratitude. Here I was in beautiful Barbados, surrounded by hundreds of swimmers from all across the world, doing something we all loved, and doing it to the very best of our abilities. I had been fortunate enough to be able to afford the trip and to have some amazing training buddies over the summer. I thought about my parents who had helped me get to this point in my life, and my wonderful friends who had encouraged me to take this adventure. I thought about the English Channel swimmers I had met at dinner just a couple of nights ago, and how amazing it was that I got to meet them. Could I do something that big someday? The wheels were turning again. But for that moment, I just wanted to take it all in, as the next day I would be back to reality at work. I finished the 5k in a time of 1:47:36, 8th in my age group. Some swimmers noted that the waves made them nauseous, but I had been fine. All I could think about was coming back the next year and doing it all again. On the plane ride home I spent a lot of time planning the next big swim. Where would it be? How far would I go? I had read Diana Nyad’s memoir of her swim from Cuba to Florida “Find a Way” while in Barbados and I knew that I too had to find a way to make my dream of a marathon swim possible.

Finding a Way

Upon returning home I started seriously to consider doing a 10k swim. I found out about a fund-raising swim across the Northumberland Strait, from New Brunswick and PEI, The Big Swim. While I ultimately decided not to join that group in 2016, I found inspiration through the stories of swimmers who had completed the swim in the past through the organization’s web page. I also found a website called “Maritime Open-Water Swims” that listed everyone who had swam the Northumberland Strait. The distance was 12.67km, although currents, tides, and winds would determine how long the swim would take. I started to seriously consider it, although first I wanted to talk to someone who had actually done it. I noticed the “Maritime Open-Water Swims” website was initially started by a woman named Jen Alexander, who had done the swim several times, even had successfully completed a double crossing (to PEI and back) and have even attempted two triple crossings. Jen had documented her attempts and her story was a source of great inspiration. A swimmer with type 1 diabetes, she swam attached to a waterproof insulin pump and stopped every 30 minutes to tread water and test her blood glucose level. Like many people with longstanding type 1 diabetes, Jen developed frozen shoulder and attempted a one-armed butterfly crossing of the strait. Her swim had to be abandoned about half-way across due to heavy headwinds. I felt that Jen was someone with great strength and determination. I was able to find her on Facebook and reached out to her to see if we could chat about the swim. To my amazement, less than an hour later I was on the phone with her (she called me from Vancouver) discussing the best strategy for hiring a boat, picking the ideal time to cross, and reading the currents. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through the complicated process of organizing the swim all on my own, at least not for my first big swim. I thanked Jen and hung up, both inspired and determined to find a small, safe group to swim a 10k with.

A New Direction

A couple of weeks later I was chatting with friends about my plans to do a marathon swim. I told them about my conversation with Jen. My friend Jess happened to mention that she had been a kayaker for the 10k swim across the Bay of Chaleur between Quebec and New Brunswick as part of their Summer Splash festivities and she knew how tricky tides and currents could be. This was the first I had heard of the swim, so I pried her for more details. She put me in touch with the organizers, who seemed overjoyed that someone from Fredericton wanted to travel up north to join the swim. Without doing too much research I signed up on New Year’s Day, 2016. It wasn’t until later that I learned about the massive amounts of jellyfish and deepwater sharks that inhabited the bay, as well as near glacial temperatures.

Sources of Inspiration

As I trained for the Chaleur swim, I sought out sources of guidance and inspiration. I continued to chat with Jen Alexander over Facebook Messenger about my upcoming swim and she provided a wealth of advice based on her own personal experiences. We talked about our shared admiration for Marilyn Bell, who was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario at the age of 17. Lynne Cox was another strong swimmer who I had long admired for her swims in sub-zero water, swimming in Antarctica, from the US to Russia to bring peace between the two countries, and many more awe-inspiring swims. She had appeared on numerous talk and news shows sharing her story, had met countless world leaders, and even had a meteor named after her. She was legendary. Before heading to Barbados I had found her personal Facebook Page and reached out to her for advice. I never imagined she would actually respond. Once again I was shocked when she wrote back almost immediately. We had a long chat about our shared love of swimming, discussed her books, and of course, she offered a wealth of advice on preparing for my swim in Barbados. After deciding to swim the Bay of Chaleur I wrote to her again, and she wrote back with advice and promised to put me in touch with friends of hers who lived in Canada who were also training for epic swims (which she did). I was learning that distance swimmers were kind and encouraging people, who wanted others to succeed in their swims. I thought about Lynne often during my longer swims and tried to channel her determination and strength. Her “bible” on open water swimming was also a valuable resource during my training, as I figured out what to wear, eat, drink, and how to train.

Sacrifices and Doubts

The sacrifices I made to achieve my dream were small compared to those who complete much longer swims, but they were sacrifices nonetheless. I would meet with good friends who were out for drinks on a Saturday night and leave after a couple of hours, knowing I had an early morning 6 or 8k swim. I told myself that training was more important than having fun with friends. I now realize that time spent with friends can be just as valuable and good for the soul as chasing after a marathon swim dream, but at the time, the training consumed me. My new friends became those who were willing to give up their time to train with me and I came to value these new friendships. Many of these athletes were training for Half Ironman events and would join me before hopping on the bike or going for a run while I continued my swim alone. I admired their determination and felt extremely grateful to have them as training partners. In turn, they admired me for wanting to conquer the Bay of Chaleur and offered words of encouragement whenever we trained together. Despite my determination to make it across the Bay, I had a few doubts in the back of my mind, as did some others. A small handful of people believed what I was doing was dangerous and I should start with a shorter distance, to be sure I could do it. But I knew in my heart I wouldn’t be satisfied with that. I had to try, and this was the swim I needed to attempt. Sometimes at night, fear would creep into my thoughts. I would dream that the swim was taking place during the dark of night, and no matter how long I swam, daylight never came. I remember one vivid dream where every time I dragged my arms through the murky water, my hands would touch the bottom. The water never seemed to get deep, and I questioned whether the swim had any merit, since I could stand up and touch bottom at any time. During the day, I pushed any fears aside, as excitement around the prospect of doing something so unique slowly began to grow.

Summer of 2016

Duncan Hadley Triathlon — Photo Credit: Larissa Reinders

During the same summer that the swim was to take place, I also had signed up for three triathlons. The first was a sprint distance with a 750m pool swim in super warm water, the second was a team sprint triathlon, and the third was a Half Ironman triathlon Relay in St. Andrew’s, NB, with the same team as the sprint event. I wanted to become stronger at swimming with a group. In the past, I had occasionally had panic attacks in the water, brought on, I believe, by the pressure I put on myself to do well and the large crowds. In each of these swims I improved my time, and by the time I hit the water in St. Andrew’s I was giddy with excitement. Minutes before the gun went off I looked up and saw a camera drone overhead filming the swimmers as they prepared to take off. I laughed and waved, which caused others to look up. Soon we were all laughing and cheering, hoping to be caught on camera. As I began the swim I felt strong and lighthearted. I slowly began to pass others and overtook quite a few at the corners. Up until this point, my greatest fear about the Bay of Charleurs swim was getting stung by a jellyfish. I had never been stung before and worried about what it might do to me. To my surprise, as I was turning the final corner in St. Andrew’s, I felt something prickly rub hard against my face. For a moment I thought it was the Velcro strap from another swimmer’s wetsuit, but noticed there was no one near me, and the pain only continued to worsen as I swam. I realized it must have been a jellyfish, as I had felt something soft and squishy with my hand the day before during our practice swim. As I exited the water I was elated to check my Garmin and see I had achieved a new PR. However, my face was burning from the sting and continued to burn throughout the rest of the day. The stingers had left a mark in the shape of a comma on my face, a small souvenir from the day’s event. I was actually thankful that I had been stung, as it made me realize that I could tolerate the pain if it happened as I swam from Quebec to New Brunswick the next weekend.

The Big Swim

The day before my swim was to take place was July 15, 2016. Originally I was supposed to travel to Northern New Brunswick with my parents, but my father had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the spring and was unable to travel. I asked my good friend Shannon to make the journey with me, and she offered to drive, an offer I graciously accepted as I knew I would need to save my strength for the swim. The day was windy and as we drove across the bridge in Miramichi, I looked down and saw whitecaps in the water. My most intense training swims had been during windy days on the lake, but never in a Bay. I wondered if I’d be able to handle it. When we arrived in Charlo we went to the beach. There were more whitecaps and the water was frigid. I looked across the bay and saw Quebec in the distance, knowing that wasn’t even half the distance I would be swimming, as I knew I had to swim along the coast for several kilometers as well. Nerves started to get the better of me. I had no idea what would become of me or why I had decided to do it. I just knew that it was too late to back out at that point. We had an early supper at a local café that overlooked the water. I strategically sat with my back to the window so I wouldn’t have to look out at the waves. I could barely stomach my spaghetti, with the thought of the whitecaps causing me panic. We headed back to the hotel early and I arranged all of my supplies for the swim on the bed. I probably had enough food, gels, and water to feed an army, but I was prepared for anything. I had even picked up ginger Gravol, in case I became seasick. Morning came bright and early. We fed ourselves and were down to the marina at the crack of dawn. Later the mayor showed up with the boat crew. It would just be myself, Shannon, and the crew heading to Quebec; the other two swimmers were to meet us on the other side. As we motored across the Bay, the captain told us conditions were perfect for the swim. The water was calm and the weather was beautiful. However, I was in for a shock when they told me the water was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. I had only trained in water that cold a handful of times and it had been miserable, even with a wetsuit. Cold water takes your breath away, increases your heart rate, and often, causes you to panic. I wasn’t sure how I would survive for several hours at that temperature. Once we disembarked, I took a moment to get acquainted with my kayaker, Maurice, gave him my supplies, and grabbed a few last minute snacks provided by the organizers. The mayor gave a few words to welcome us to Quebec and wished us luck on the adventure we were about to embark on. Before I knew it I was in the water, ready to begin. The sounding gun went off and I began to swim. The other two swimmers quickly passed me, and I started to panic. The cold water hit me like knives and I panicked even more. I wasn’t even 50 meters away from shore and I wanted to quit. “What am I thinking? The other two swimmers are young and strong. I don’t belong here. I haven’t trained hard enough. I’ll drown. The distance is too far.” I stopped swimming and gulped for air. My kayaker stopped his boat and looked over, concerned. “Are you ok?” he asked. I thought long and hard. What would happen if all of those people on the beach saw me stop before I even began? Did Shannon drive all this way just to watch me fail? Did I put in all of those hours just to quit? No, I had to keep going. Just one arm in front of the other, one breath at a time. I knew I could do it, at least for a kilometer, and after that, it would just get easier. Trust the training, I told myself. Sure enough, not only did the panic subside, but I began to enjoy the swim. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the water was as calm as glass. I looked back and saw Quebec slowly growing smaller in the distance. Ahead was some large rocks protruding from the water which we would have to swim around, then beyond that, New Brunswick. Far off in the distance I eventually could see a small yellow dot. My kayaker told me it was the tent where the Summer Splash festivities took place and our ending point. As I continued to swim towards that point I could hear music faintly in the distance, and an announcer speaking, although I couldn’t make out what he was saying. “You hear that?” my kayaker asked me. “They’re all there waiting for you”. I had been drinking water with Nuun tablets to keep my electrolytes up and had stopped for a couple of gels throughout the swim. I realized I needed to use the washroom, but had never practiced doing so while treading water. I stopped and my kayaker asked if I was alright. “Just gotta pee!” I yelled. “Ok, I won’t look,” he said. Unfortunately, whether it was the tight wetsuit, having someone present, or the cold water, I couldn’t go. I kept swimming. A few minutes later I stopped to try again. A boatload of firefighters surveying the swim thought I was in trouble and came over to help. “Just taking a break!” I yelled, but still, I couldn’t go. I decided to try punching my guts with my fist on every stroke through the water, but that didn’t help either. Eventually, I just learned to live with the pain. As I swam, a pontoon boat carrying the organizers would circle back and forth among the three swimmers to ensure we were safe and well taken care of. I would lift my head, smile, and wave, and could hear all of them shouting words of encouragement. When the firefighters approached I tried smiling and waving in between strokes as well, but they were too serious and focused on doing their job to wave back. I had heard that there was a strong current about halfway through the swim and I would really have to fight to make it through. I asked my kayaker when we would be hitting it, but he said we were already past where it normally was, and luckily hadn’t been affected by it today. I was so relieved. I was also relieved that there were no jellyfish. I was told it was too cold for them survive, however, I have since learned that they do thrive in cold water so I am unsure why I didn’t see at least a few. In any case, the cold water forced me to swim fast, for if my speed dropped I would slowly start to shiver and pick up my pace. My goal for the swim was to complete it in under four hours. I knew that was completely possible, based on past races and training swims. At three hours I looked at my Garmin and noted I had 2km left to swim. Piece of cake, as I could swim 3km in an hour. The yellow tent loomed far off in the distance and I focused all my efforts on heading towards that tent. I swam as hard as I could, but after an hour still seemed to be no closer than I had been an hour ago. “We don’t seem to be getting any closer,” I told my kayaker. He explained that we were stuck in a bit of a current now, and I would really need to push hard to get through it. Forty minutes later and finally the tent seemed to be a little larger. I could hear the announcer and sort of make out what he was saying as I got closer. Somehow I began to swim off course, and my faithful kayaker let me know I was heading in the wrong direction. Tiredness was beginning to get the better of me. Soon though, I watched the water below me turn from dark brown to pale yellow. I could make out shadows and grass at the bottom. Was I finally here? I looked up and saw people on the shore clapping and cheering. Behind me, Maurice, my faithful kayaker, set down his paddle and began to clap. He was going to let me have this moment all to myself. I tried putting down my feet but the water was still too deep. The pain of still needing to use the bathroom was excruciating. It was all I could think about. I saw a porta-potty and bolted for the beach with all my strength. Finally, there it was — the bottom was within reach and I stepped down and walked ashore. Shannon had made a sign encouraging me “Go Jill Go!” and was in tears. The mayor came over and shook my hand, and one by one complete strangers congratulated me and shook my hand. My friend Jess’ mother (Jess had told me about the swim) had been a kayaker for the 3k event and came over to meet me and congratulate me. I had purchased a card and gift certificate for my kayaker, and I gave that to him to thank him for his time. We took a few moments for pictures with various individuals, and then I bolted to the washroom. Never had I felt such sweet relief. After a quick change into dry clothes, I was given some chowder and a roll. Food had never tasted so good and I had never been so hungry. Next was the prize ceremony. I was the final swimmer back in the 10k event, so took the third place medal. I also received a certificate and a towel with the Summer Splash logo on it. I thanked the organizers for putting on such a great event and for helping to make my dream a reality.

Bay of Chaleur photos — Photo Credit: Carol Levesque

Lessons Learned

After the awards ceremony, Shannon and I grabbed some fish and chips and she asked me what I thought about on long swims. I asked, “What does anyone think about when they’re alone?” But as I thought more about it, I realized swimming had a calming effect on me. My thoughts became clearer, more serene, and I felt a greater sense of gratitude. On this swim, I had thought about the home I had just purchased a few weeks earlier, and how lucky I was to be in a position to buy my own home. I thought about my family, who even though didn’t always understand why I had to do certain things, still supported my drive to accomplish them. I watched the time on my Garmin and thought about how far I had come, at that particular moment, and in life in general. In high school, I hadn’t even believed I would graduate, let alone accomplish anything with my life, yet here I was, swimming from Quebec to New Brunswick. You never know where life will lead you. In the weeks and months to follow, the swim became a valuable source of strength, courage, and inspiration for myself and others. A co-worker told me he wanted to do something big as well. Not a swim, but maybe an epic sail. Friends congratulated me and many told me I had inspired them to aim for longer swims, both in practice and in competition. The week after my swim I joined some friends to road bike around Kennebecasis Valley on one of the hottest days of the year. The hills felt like death, and I hadn’t brought enough water. The sun beat down on me, and often I found myself cycling alone. On the hills I would push myself by saying out loud, “you swam from Quebec to New Brunswick. You can do anything”. I don’t believe I would have made it without those words of motivation. In my professional career, when faced with new, overwhelming projects, I remind myself that I swam across the cold Bay of Chaleur, almost quitting at the beginning, but achieving success after pushing myself and reminding myself to trust the training. The same lesson can apply in my professional life if I just work hard enough.

Beyond the Swim

Following the swim, I fully intended to keep practicing and to repeat it the following year, beating my time from 2016. But priorities shifted and I realized I needed to take a break from chasing numbers. I wanted to swim for fun, to bike and run with friends, and to ski to relax. I needed a year to focus on my relationship with my friends and doing a healthy amount of exercise each day. 2016 had been about chasing big dreams. 2017 would be about balance. My 2017 motto is “Que Sera Sera” — Whatever will be will be. I’m unsure whether I will ever do another long swim again, although a swim from New Brunswick to PEI is still tempting me at the back of my mind. The training is sometimes lonely and tiresome and can take up large chunks of time. Then there are the practical (but manageable) issues of chafing and not being able to use the washroom while swimming, although these problems are not common to all long-distance swimmers, especially those who swim without a wetsuit. The pain in my stomach was unbearable during the swim, and taking a shower was painful for days after from where my wetsuit chafed my neck. There is also the question of whether I would get perfect conditions like I had ever again. Apparently one year there were thunderstorms, and swimmers had to be pulled from the water. Something like that could be terrifying and dangerous. Additionally, I later learned the swim had to be altered in 2017 and would no longer start from the Quebec side, due to security reasons. It could likely never be replicated, at least not with that group.

One thing I do know is that you never know how or when inspiration will strike. I never thought I would return to university in my late 20s, never knew I was strong enough to run a half marathon, never believed I could own my own house, never imagined I could handle the work I do, and certainly didn’t expect to be blessed with so many wonderful friends in my life. As the lyrics to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” go: “Live your life with arms wide open, Today is where your book begins, The rest is still unwritten”. If you have a big dream, go for it, whatever that dream may be. It will change your life and make you a much stronger person.

Swim from Miguasha, QC, to Charlo, NB. 4:40:41. July 16, 2016

Strava Data: https://www.strava.com/activities/643310733

Originally published at www.getouttheremag.com.



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