Jill Yoneda points across the Haro Strait. Yoneda finished the 15 km swim and is set to tackle her real goal; a double crossing of the Georgia Straight. (photo Tim Collins)

Jill Yoneda points across the Haro Strait. Yoneda finished the 15 km swim and is set to tackle her real goal; a double crossing of the Georgia Straight. (photo Tim Collins)

Swimmer set for double crossing of Georgia Strait

Jill Yoneda's Aug. 3 swim will benefit Canuck Place

On August 3rd, Cadboro Bay resident, Jill Yoneda will undertake the first double crossing swim of the Georgia Strait.

She’ll enter the water that morning in Nanaimo and swim the 70 km to Sechelt and then, without touching ground, she will turn around and swim another 70 km back to Nanaimo.

“The Coast Guard knows about the swim and have already tell me I’ll never make it,” laughed Yoneda.”

“They don’t know me very well.”

The entire effort is designed to raise funds and awareness for Canuck Place, a children’s hospice that delivers care planning, pain and symptom management, follow-up support, and end-of-life care for children in British Columbia.

And, in case Yoneda’s efforts might be seen by some as just another athletic fund raising project, it’s important to note that this remarkable woman is undertaking the swim despite a lifetime of personal physical challenges.

She suffers from a rare condition called Popliteal Artery entrapment syndrome–a condition that induces chronic pain and has necessitated 15 surgeries throughout her life, including three spinal disc implants. She also suffers from a degenerative disc disease that caused her to have to remove herself from the Canadian free diving team, and Compartment Syndrome, a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels.

The net result of these conditions is that Yoneda will be performing the swim without using her legs, relying almost entirely upon her upper body to complete the swim.

But despite all that, it’s not the first time that Yoneda has raised money through long distance swimming. Last year she swam across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to raise money for First Nations children summer camps.

“People called me courageous when I did that swim, but I am anything but courageous. I cried through a lot of that swim, and I thought about quitting. And when I crawled out of the water like some half-drowned sea creature, I didn’t feel very courageous at all”, said Yoneda.

The choice of Canuck Place for the upcoming swim came after a friend needed to make use of the organization’s service. Yoneda said that seeing the challenges that children at that facility face inspired her to undertake the marathon swim.

“Those kids and their parents, and the staff who work with these children every day…they’re the ones with courage,” she said. “They need and deserve our support.”

Regardless of Yoneda’s self-deprecating approach to her swim, the 140 km journey will be very difficult.

Although she will have a manned support boat and two friends on paddle-boards with her, she is not allowed to touch the boat, the boards or any other person for the duration of the swim.While she can take sustenance, the containers are thrown out to her and she has to take in the food and drink while treading water.

One of the paddle-boarders with Yoneda will be lifelong friend Patrick O’Neill.

“I’ve known Jill since kindergarten and I can’t tell you how much I admire the fierce courage it takes for her to do this swim. She’s one of the bravest people I know.”

That bravery was on full display on Thursday (July 19) when Yoneda and her support team set out for a practice training swim across Haro Strait. Despite a brisk wind and three to four foot waves, the crew entered the water and were only forced to abandon the swim a few hours later when the waves made it impossible for the support crew to keep up with Yoneda’s swimming.

“I’ll have to do another training swim in the next few days when the water is a little calmer,” said Yoneda, who has no formal coach or organization supporting her efforts. “But this swim was a good warm -up, regardless.”

The one problem Yoneda has, but insists on down-playing, is the fact that her wet suit has developed a few holes during the course of her fund raising swims. She isn’t inclined to spend money on a new one at the moment, preferring to use her funds to support her swims and the organizations she supports.

“I’ll make due with this one for now,” she said with a smile. “Maybe after I finish this next big swim I’ll try to get a new one before I do my next swim.”

For more information about Canuck Place and to make a donation to Yoneda’s swim, visit canuckplace.org/jillyoneda.

Peninsula News Review