Despite having to fight strong tides, currents and weather, Lax Kw’alaams’ Dayna McKay successfully completed The Journey Home.
McKay started the second leg of her Into the Sea Cancer Free swim in Prince Rupert last Friday and arrived on Rose Island in Lax Kw’alaams after 27 hours.
Prior to her departure from the Prince Rupert harbour, McKay said she wasn’t nervous to swim overnight for The Journey Home. McKay said she was more nervous to meet Brent Hayden, 2012 Summer Olympics bronze medal-winner in the 100 metre freestyle swim, who travelled to Prince Rupert to support McKay in her efforts. Hayden was one of many in boats following McKay in the ocean during her swim.
“I’m lending my support to Dana because I could never swim that far. I think about what I accomplished and think what she’s doing is just as important, if not more so. Being able to meet someone that is so courageous… is incredible,” Hayden said during a press conference, adding, “I think she’s awesome.”
“I’m so honour he’s here… I was nervous to meet him because I’ve watched him on TV, and now he’s here supporting me,” McKay said.
Hayden told McKay to get motivation from her nerves, saying “nervousness does not mean that you’re scared. Nervousness is what your body does to prepare to do something great. Use it as fuel to guide you to the end of this journey”.
While McKay didn’t beat her personal goal of taking less time to swim the route than her first Into the Sea Cancer Free swim, she continued to push herself throughout The Journey Home.
McKay was shaking as family and friends helped her get into her wet suit last Friday evening, with hundreds of people gathering at the Prince Rupert waterfront to see her off. As McKay entered the ocean, drummers and singers performed “The Women’s Warrior Song”.
McKay said when she was swimming from the Metlakatla Pass the currents were low and the water was calm. But after passing Jap Point, McKay said the tides began to change for the worst. Then, after passing Big Bay, McKay said the tides really started picking up.
Even after spending a full day swimming, McKay didn’t give up. Despite setbacks, McKay still made a brief stop in the water at Finlayson Island to honour those buried at the site.
Then, shortly before 9 p.m. on June 29, McKay was able to see the shore of Rose Island. McKay said as soon as people were visible in the distance she felt a surge of energy.
“I didn’t feel sore or tired. I just felt anxious and couldn’t wait to get to the beach,” she said.
As McKay was approaching Rose Island she noticed a number of children swimming out to her in the water.
“I was ready to burst out into tears,” she said.
“They all came up to me… I couldn’t believe it. I gave them all a high-five, we all hugged each other and made our way toward the beach.”
McKay has been a lifeguard at Lax Kw’alaams’ swimming facility for more than half a decade, and said the children who swam to her are regulars at the pool.
“It’s the kids that make me love my job,” she said.
McKay was greeted by an estimated 500 people on the beach of Rose Island, including a First Nations dance group, the Grandmothers Group, RCMP, first responders and Mayor Garry Reece.
“I was really happy with how many people were there,” McKay said.
After McKay’s arrival she and a full house of people enjoyed a feast in her honour. At the feast, McKay announced she is planning another long distance swim, this time from Lax Kw’alaams to Victoria.
The swim will require a lot of help from people around the province, with McKay expecting many meetings will be held in the future.
McKay is hoping to begin her third long distance swim in three years, aiming to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for all cancers.
McKay was touched by the disease when her uncle Bill Sampson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009.
Sampson said he feels honoured knowing his niece is doing another Into the Sea Cancer Free swim for him, and credits her efforts for helping him recover from the disease.
“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I felt like I was going to give up. When she announced she was [doing the first Into the Sea Cancer Free swim] in my honour it put me up, and made me fight,” he said.
Sampson is happy to say his cancer is currently in remission.
“I’m still feeling the effects of the chemotherapy and the radiation… the doctor’s told me it takes about a year to wear off,” he said.