Come on in, the (cold) water’s fine!

This May, a group of Pearson College UWC students are set to take on a largely-unprecedented long-distance, open-water swim from Race Rocks Ecological Reserve to the main dock at the College on Pedder Bay.

“These seven students have trained hard and are keen to meet the challenge of a six-kilometre swim in the chilly late-spring waters of the Salish Sea,” said Corey Teramura, Seafront Activities Coordinator and one of the many people on campus working to make first-time event happen.

“Their skill and stamina levels are high, their enthusiasm is inspiring to the entire campus and they are all experienced swimmers who have trained long and hard in both the winter waters of the North Pacific and in the calmer waters of our own College pool.”

Corey is quick to credit the idea for The Race Rocks Challenge to student Hayley Touchburn (YR 44/2019, Canada-NB) who organized the swimmers together with inspirational and practical support from Faculty member and Marine Biology teacher Laura Verhegge. Growing up in the eastern Canadian coastal province of New Brunswick, Hayley said swimming was always an integral part of her life.

“I think I was about 2 or 3 when my mom would bring me to a community pool while my brother was at school,” said Hayley. “Years of summers at the beach, swim lessons, competitive swimming and ultimately triathlon all started at St Pat’s Community Pool and Parlee Beach in (the town of) Shédiac — which was basically my backyard!”

Hayley is being joined by six of her peers: Mara Bohm (YR 45/2020, Canada-MB), Mikella Schuettler (YR 45/2020, Canada), Tess Casher (YR 44/2019, Canada-YT), Andrew Littlejohn (YR 45/2020, Canada-NL), Sarah Lewis (YR 45/2019, Canada-NL) and Dvir Maimon (YR 44/2019, Israel).

Collectively, the participating students explained their motivation in a short essay, “In addition to our individual reasons for taking on what we’ve coined, The Race Rocks Challenge, we hope to use this ambitious and exciting experience to help the College raise funds for new pool equipment, to reach out to alumni and to generate some positive public and media attention for the College.”

Corey said the students are training with and are mentored by Susan Simmons, who has volunteered her time with the Pearson swimmers. Simmons works extensively with Special Olympics participants, including a group called the Spirt Orcas who are currently training for a relay crossing of the English Channel and the Great Bear Swim training camp.

“Safety is the highest priority for The Race Rocks Challenge,” added Corey. “All swimmers will be wearing full-body wetsuits and we will literally have a flotilla of safety personnel and observers in powered craft and certified guide-staffed kayaks who will be surrounding the swimmers every metre of the way. We have worked with all agencies, including the Canadian Coast Guard, that have responsibilities for the marine environment and shipping traffic.

An open-water swim of this nature is highly weather-dependent, and the Swim Director has ultimate authority to make the go/no-go decision on the morning of May 25. If weather and water conditions are not optimal, the Director can decide to cancel, delay or make adjustments to the planned course.

A swimmer experiencing any signs of distress will trigger an immediate response. A variety of communications systems, including VHS radios and cell phones, will be in place to coordinate any needed water or land responses.

The Race Rocks Challenge is a mental challenge as well as a physical one,” said Corey. “It demands focus, dedication, toughness and resilience – the qualities that all students bring to Pearson.”

Hayley added that the “challenge, the excitement, the beauty of the area…the possibility for team spirit and camaraderie are what attracted me to open water swimming.

“I want to leave my mark at Pearson and I think The Race Rocks Challenge is a way to do that. I want to bring a team together, raise money for this place that has meant and given me so much over two years, and leave with a bang!”