Originally from Williams Lake, blind man Scott Rees successfully swam across the Georgia Strait in just under 11 hours on Sunday, July 23 to raise $125K-plus for Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.
When he arrived at the beach in Nanaimo there was a large gathering, which Rees said was uplifting.
“My wife Alex, my kids, my parents, my wife’s brother and his family, a lot of extended family, my in-laws and a lot of their friends. There were also a ton of people from Nanaimo that had heard about the swim that came down to the beach to see the finish.”
Kaleb, his dog for the blind, was there too for the finish line.
Pleased with the fundraising total, he said even during the swim another $10,000 was raised.
When he entered the frigid waters at Sechelt at 6 a.m. there was a small send-off party comprised of some friends, his captain and captain’s next door neighbours, and the owner of Tapworks Brewing Company in Gibsons, that did a beer for the charity.
“They saw me and my friend Joost Van Woerden accompanied us in his kayak for the first hour before we met up with our main support boat.”
While he swam, he listened through his headset for directions from Joost, who also kept him encouraged when he got tired.
“He was selectively reading me some of the posts that were coming in on social media that were really supportive and kind. He kind of cherry picked and read me some that were nice and gave me fuel in the fire to keep going.”
Joost was also giving him updates on the fundraiser.
“It was kind of neat to get those updates and know people were actively watching the swim and looking at the social media updates.”
Rees grew up in Williams Lake and was a competitive swimmer as a member of the Williams Lake Blue Fins, who were cheering him on from a far.
Originally the 30-km swim was planned for Saturday, July 22, but due to the weather, which included strong wings from the southeast, it was postponed a day.
“The weather was actually pretty good,” Rees told Black Press Media Monday. “There was a bit of wind at the start and there was a current we weren’t expecting part way through the day, but conditions were as calm as we could have hoped for.”
It was the ocean so there were waves, but it was much better than the day before or after.
Rees admitted he felt the grind of the 11-hour swim and agreed it was the hardest swim he’d ever done. His longest swim before that was just under five hours when he was training for the Georgia Strait.
“Generally I felt pretty good. My heart and lungs felt good but I ended up suffering with the number of strokes and my shoulders were getting pretty tight and sore. The limiting factor was arm and shoulder soreness.”
He did the whole swim front crawl.
While he alternates sides [bilateral] for breathing in the pool when swimming, for the ocean swim he tends to stay on a straighter line when he is breathing on his left side.
“I did do a little bit of bilateral breathing at the beginning but as my arms became progressively sore I ended up not being able to rotate to the right to get breaths without hurting my left shoulder.”
Stopping every 45 minutes for a nutrition break to take in some calories, Rees said he drank a sports drink and ate things such as a banana, canned peaches, sliced mango or energy bars.
“My sister had helped me food pack in advance to make sure I was getting 70 grams of glucose each time I stopped.”
There was a humpback whale swimming off in the distance, but no other sea life he was told about during his swim.
“I would not want to be swimming with orcas,” he admitted.
Rees, who has a condition called retinitis pigmentosa — a genetic condition that causes degeneration of the retina, thanked everyone who helped and supported the fundraiser and said he could not have done it without them.
Next up he plans to be a supportive father and husband after a busy year of work, family, planning the swim and training for the swim.