The journey from Bella Bella to Namu will take two full 8 to 10 hour days of swimming in 11 to 14 C degree water. My head will be down and I will hear little more than the sound of my breathing and my arms moving through the water. It is a place of peace and tranquility and the ideal environment for meditation.
I think the two most common questions I am asked when I embark on these long swims are:
- Where do you find your strength? and
- What do you think about along the way?
The answer is simple. I think about my heroes. One of my heroes I will be thinking about this year as I swim to Namu is Amber Yokimas.
For the past 5 years I have coached a team of 50 Special Olympic Swimmers in Victoria, British Columbia. It is one of the greatest joys of my life and I often look to these very special athletes for inspiration, strength and courage.
I remember one of the first swim competitions I went to with the club. It was in Courtney on Vancouver Island – a 3 hour bus drive from Victoria. On our way home there was a fairly significant snow storm. We were all on a bus together and there she was, Amber Yokimas, as sweet and tender as one could be, exhausted from all of her races and frightened by the storm. She was curled up in the corner of her seat, afraid at what lay ahead as we drove through the storm toward Victoria. I sat with her and we quietly cuddled, comforting each other along the way. Sweet, tender and vulnerable was my first impression of this inspiring person.
As the years have gone on I have come to know the many facets of Amber beyond her 5 foot, quite, unassuming presence . I have discovered that a quiet lady can be a fierce tiger with a fire in her eyes and someone prone to extreme bouts of the giggles. At all of our swim meets Amber’s inner tiger has appeared on the block. Each time she dove into the water I saw her swim with prowess and vigor; an unstoppable athlete.
Amber passed away quietly in her sleep the other night. I am saddened by the loss but know that I am a better person for having known her. Over the short period of time I spent with her I came to discover that there is fierce tiger that quietly lives inside each of us. That tiger, when called upon, provides us with the strength and courage we need to get through challenges in our lives.
When I swim to Namu this year I will think of Amber and her gentle spirit. When the waters turn colder and the waves crash harder and i need more strength, I will summon my inner tiger the way Amber showed me how she summoned hers and I will swim through the challenges that lay in front of me. And when I am done, I will giggle, just like Amber.
Amber, you will be with me always, love Coach Susan.