By Daily Courier Staff
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Swimming through swells as high as seven feet, Kelowna‘s Jennifer Leach-Trask, Rhonda Renning-Talbot and their all-female over-40 relay team crossed Georgia Strait in record time on Saturday.
The two Okanagan Masters Swim Club members, along with Susan Simmons and Karen Tannas of Victoria, covered the 34-kilometre Salish Sea Swim from Davis Inlet in Sechelt to Piper‘s Lagoon in Nanaimo in nine hours 33 minutes. That bettered the time of the top relay team of last year by two minutes.
The Georgia Girls, who had set a goal of finishing in 10 to 12 hours, high-fived each other as they set their wobbly legs and feet on the shore of the lagoon five minutes ahead of the Strait Shooters team of Jim Close, Deborah and Kayleigh Roberts and Ken Simpson of Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the two solo swimmers – Rod Craig and James Monk of North Vancouver – who were attempting to better their time of last year, and a third relay team from Victoria were unable to complete the swim because of the harsh conditions.
“It was an amazing, exhausting and sometimes frightening experience – much more than we expected. But it was also unforgettable. “And it sure makes for a better story,” said Renning-Talbot jokingly. Leach-Trask was somewhat more philosophical. “It will be something I will never forget, especially near the end of it all, when I had what I call a ’wow‘ moment. I thought: ’I‘ve been a visitor here today and I have a very deep respect for the ocean.‘ I felt very small in there.”
The primary purpose of the swim was to draw attention to the environmental pressures that impact the Strait of Georgia.
While finishing first proved secondary to just completing the swim in high winds and rolling waves, touching shore ahead of the only other team was a motivation when the going got tough.
The two Kelowna swimmers and their teammates – taking to the water in one-hour intervals – trailed the Vancouver foursome for first three hours of the swim, but then overtook the Strait Shooters and held the lead the rest of the way.
“When we got ahead of them and realized we were making good progress, that really rejuvenated us, recalled Leach-Trask, the oldest of the swimmers at age 56. “But still the goal at that point was just to finish.”
All 14 participants and their support teams, including husbands Grant Trask and Brad Talbot, left Davis Inlet at 8:10 a.m., following a private aboriginal drum ceremony.
Crashing waves were already evident as the first swimmers hit the ocean water. About an hour into the swim, the swells were constant at four or five feet.
By mid-day and one-third the way across, the two solo swimmers and one of the relay teams turned back.
The Georgia Girls never considered stopping – or not completing the swim.
“We‘re all pretty stubborn,” assured Renning-Talbot, 44. “For me, I was told by Brent Hobbs (a English Channel swimmer from Kelowna) before the swim to visualize the finish and I would get there. I left with the vision of the four of us on the beach in Nanaimo and I kept that vision.
“In my mind, there was no question we were going to get across.”
Several of the swimmers on both of the remaining teams encountered serious cases of sea sickness, but without the skill of the boat pilots and support crews, the swim and the time in the boat would have been much worse, according to both Renning-Talbot and Leach-Trask.
“I just can‘t say enough about the amazing job our captain (skipper Luke Till) did,” said Renning-Talbot. “The way he was able to keep the boat (Sunshine Girl, a 34-foot offshore cutter) at a steady pace on the windward side of us to break the brunt of a lot of waves was incredible.”
Leach-Trask added that the boat crew was vital for the situations in which they found themselves.
“There were some really scary moments out there – more in the boat than in the water. There‘s no way we could have done it without the great support we had.”
While they were united in their praise of the people around them, the two veteran swimmers were somewhat divided when asked if they would attempt the swim again.
“Absolutely,” said Renning-Talbot, who, upon her return to Kelowna on Monday, signed up for the annual seven-kilometre Rattlesnake Island swim on Saturday. “But, I‘d sure like to try it in better conditions.”
Leach-Trask, who signed up for the Rattlesnake swim prior to tackling Georgia Strait, was more reserved about a repeat swim in the ocean.
“I don‘t have that feeling that I wouldn‘t do it again, but I want to give myself some time to recover properly before I make the decision.”
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