Swift Current resident Meghan Chisholm recently participated in a long-distance relay swim at Last Mountain Lake to raise funds for YWCA Regina.
The team of four swimmers swam the length of Last Mountain Lake, the largest naturally occurring lake in southern Saskatchewan.
The swim started at 5 a.m. on July 15 from Last Mountain Regional Park on the north end of the lake and finished at 8:19 a.m. on July 16 at Lumsden Beach.
The four swimmers took turns to swim one-hour shifts during the relay. They completed a total distance of 78.48 kilometres in a time of 27 hours and 19 minutes.
The three other members of the team were Regina residents Dionne Tatlow and sisters Adrien and Kelsey van Dyke.
Chisholm is an experienced swimmer and she was therefore eager to accept the challenge when Tatlow asked her to join the team.
“I immediately said sure,” Chisholm recalled. “I thought it was going to be so much fun.”
Long-distance swimming is not a new experience for Chisholm. She completed a solo swim across the English Channel in July 2014, when she was 19 years old. She finished that challenging swim of 48.4 kilometres in 14 hours and 39 minutes.
Tatlow came up with the idea of a relay swim along the length of Last Mountain Lake after her summer plans to travel to the United States to participate in a 10-kilometre race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She thought of Last Mountain Lake, but she realized it was quite a bit far to do it solo,” Chisholm said. “So she had wondered if there would be some other crazy people who think this would be a good idea.”
This was most likely the first time that this type of long-distance relay swim was done at Last Mountain Lake. They followed the rules of the Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF) and their intention is to submit the necessary paperwork to have the swim officially recognized.
The MSF guidelines are similar to the rules that Chisholm followed when she did the swim across the English Channel. They therefore had to swim in their regular bathing costumes and were not allowed to wear wetsuits. There was also a set procedure during the change-over between swimmer. The swimmer who finished her one-hour stint in the water had to be back into the boat within five minutes after the rotation.
Chisholm started her training for this relay swim in early May. The closure of aquatic facilities due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions meant they had to find alternative training locations.
The swimmers met twice a week at Buffalo Pound Lake, north of Moose Jaw, to train for several hours. They also had a training weekend further north in the colder water of Candle Lake.
“I never wore a wetsuit the whole time, even in May,” she said. “We would swim for an hour and maybe get out for an hour and swim for another hour and get out for an hour. We would do doubles and triples.”
She prefers to never wear a wetsuit during her training, regardless of the conditions, to ensure her preparations are in accordance with the rules that will apply during an official swim.
“I just always want to challenge myself with the true channel rules and just to keep those true roots,” she said. “The coldest we got was one time we trained at Candle Lake. I think the coldest was 11 degrees.”
The water temperature of around 18 degrees Celsius during the relay swim at Last Mountain Lake did not present a significant problem to the swimmers.
“At the very beginning it was very windy,” she recalled. “The current wasn't exactly going against us, it was going at an angle. So it was kind of giving us a push, but on an angle, which sometimes was a challenge.”
The wind died down later during the relay and during the night they made a lot of progress in the calm water. As a result, they were able to finish the swim ahead of schedule and below the 30-hour mark.
A more significant challenge during the relay was to stay warm on the boat, especially when it was windy.
“In the water it was warmer and you're moving for the full hour, so you're warm, but on the boat the beginning was very windy and it was making all of our gear wet and it was a cold wind,” she said.
For some time in the middle of the night she felt really cold and wet, but she kept focused by thinking about the goal of the team.
“This swim was very special to all of us, and it wasn't just me who was swimming,” she said. “There were the three other people and there was also our crew. So I wouldn't be just letting myself down. … This was our swim and I know we could do it.”
She enjoyed the experience of swimming at night in a dark lake. Everything was pitch black and it created a unique and serene atmosphere.
“You have your little light on the side of your goggles, and it's really almost magical,” she said. “It's so quiet, the water was so calm, and the boat has a little green light. So when you breathed to the left, you could see the lights on the boat, but when you breathed to the right, you saw all these beautiful stars in the sky, and it was just so calm and still. So just looking at the nature and seeing what was around you was really surreal.”
Chisholm was the fourth swimmer in the rotation. The other three swimmers each swam a total of seven hours and she did six hours and 19 minutes. She was in the water when they reached Lumsden Beach, and it was a special moment to be welcomed back to shore by family and friends.
Another highlight was that they exceeded their fundraising goal of $5,000 for YWCA Regina. That target was already reached while they were swimming and it has continued to increase since then. The final amount raised by their relay swim was just over $10,000.
Chisholm plans to continue to pursue her passion for swimming. Her long-term goal is to complete the Oceans Seven, which refers to the toughest seven ocean swims in the world. She has already completed one of those seven swims when she swam across the English Channel in 2014.
She is on the waiting list to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. She was accepted to do an attempt to swim across the Tsugaru Strait, which connects the Sea of Japan with the Pacific Ocean. She was planning to go to Japan this summer for that purpose, but it is now impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other locations of the Oceans Seven long-distance swims are the North Channel that connects the Irish Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, Cook Strait between the north and south islands of New Zealand, the Molokai Channel at Hawaii, and the Catalina Channel off the coast of southern California.
“The English Channel was challenging, just the mental mindset of not knowing if I was going to be able to finish because of the current, but physically I wasn't exhausted,” she said. “I haven't found a limit for my body that I can't do, and so I'm still seeking out what can't I do in the long-distance world. These channels are the seven most challenging in the world. So I thought maybe they could challenge me.”