It took nearly 11 hours, but a 17-year-old girl from Kelowna, B.C., has completed her gruelling goal of swimming around an island off the coast of Vancouver.
Instead of resting, Emily Epp is now reaching for another milestone — she plans to swim across the English Channel next month and she’s raising thousands of dollars for a children’s hospice in the process.
“Her dad and I are super proud,” said Cheryl Epp, Emily’s mom. “She blows us away with how determined she is and how hard she’s been working.”
Emily continuously swam about 30 kilometres around Bowen Island on Saturday, braving the frigid waters of Howe Sound in just a bathing suit, a swim cap and goggles.
The tough conditions were meant to prepare the teen for what she’ll face during her international swim in mid-July.
The Channel Swimming Association says on its website that the English Channel is “considered by many to be the ultimate long distance challenge,” because the approximately 32 kilometre stretch hosts a variety of difficult conditions, including cold waters, high waves and occasional debris such as seaweed and wood planks.
Swimming off the coast of B.C. isn’t easy either.
Cheryl Epp said Emily faced rough waters, cool weather and nausea during her swim on Saturday, but never once wanted to quit.
“She was never in any doubt that she could do it,” Cheryl Epp said. “But sometimes things come up that you aren’t expecting. So she was happy she was able to push through.”
Emily has spent months training in Okanagan Lake and with her competitive swim team, but Saturday marked the first time she ever swam for more than six and a half hours continuously, her mom said.
“So to have gone 11 hours was really a mental breakthrough for her,” Cheryl Epp said.
She added that Emily wasn’t sore on Sunday, but was feeling “a little bit fatigued.”
Now Emily will begin tapering down the time and length of her swims in order to allow her body to rest and repair before she heads to England next month.
Swimming the English Channel will be more than just a cool experience for the teen. Emily is also using it as an opportunity to raise money for Canuck Place, a children’s hospice that has been an important place for the Epp family.
Cheryl Epp said they started receiving care there about five years ago for their daughter Elan, who lost all of her motor control following a viral infection when she was 18 months old.
“Elan was pretty sick at that point,” she said of her middle daughter, who is now 15. “We were having a lot of issues with pain management and feeding. And really just helping her to have the best quality of life that she can have.”
Epp said the program has improved Elan’s life dramatically.
“For our family, Canuck Place was life changing for all of us,” she said. “As a parent, just seeing her be happy again was huge.”
Elan’s success is what inspired Emily to “do whatever she can” to help other kids, Cheryl Epp said. Swimming just seemed like the natural option, she added.
So far, Emily has raised more than $4,000 for her English Channel swim and a Vancouver-based foundation is matching all the donations she brings in.