Posts by Leora Dahl

Off to England: The Lake Monsters Take on the English Channel

Photo by Angelique Duffield

The Lake Monsters in our team suits: Phred, Denise, Tracey, Leora, and Mike. Photo by Angelique Duffield

Well, the time has finally arrived! The Lake Monsters head to Dover, England this week for our chance to tackle swimming the English Channel. We have been told by our support boat captain that if the weather remains good we will likely make our attempt on August 1st. If the weather doesn’t cooperate right away, we have until the 6th of August to make our attempt.

Just as a refresher: the Channel is 35km across in a straight line, but because of the currents we will likely swim a greater distance than that. We are not allowed to wear wetsuits and the water temperature in the Channel is currently 16ºC. We’ve been training in the lake since it was 8ºC so that we won’t become hypothermic in the 16º water. Our start time will likely be around 1 or 2am as that is when the tides are retreating from the English coast, giving us some help getting out into the Channel (but we’ll have to start by swimming in the dark with glow sticks on our caps to make us visible to our support boat). We each swim for one hour at a time and then rotate through. If anyone can’t complete their shift, touches the support boat, or touches anyone on that support boat before their hour is up the entire team will be disqualified. The swim will be monitored by a member of the Channel Swimming Association and will be considered “complete” when a swimmer from the team clears the water line on the French coast. We anticipate that it will take us between 15 and 18 hours based on our swimming abilities, but again if we run into rough waters, jellyfish, or bad currents it could take us much longer.

I am excited to go and feel that we are ready! The majority of the team completed the Interior Savings Across the Lake Swim this weekend and we all put in good times for that 2.1 km swim. Now we get to take it easy on our bodies until we get to Dover and start training in the cold water again (our lake is currently around 22ºC).

My last submission for Awesome Okanagan will be published in late August or early September (after I get back from my travels) to let everyone know how it went. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Awesome Okanagan (particularly Brandon) for letting me use this forum to talk about my experience training for this over the last year and for being so supportive of our swim!

Finally, we are raising money for the Y Strong Kids campaign as part of our Channel Swim attempt. If you’d like more information about this charity or would like to support my team please go here.

Who Wouldn’t Want to Swim From Russia to Alaska?

In my last post, I described how the English Channel team had lost one of our members but couldn’t go into details at that time. Now I want to fill everyone in. As I mentioned in my last post, our teammate Paul Duffield became an Ice Swimmer over the winter. To be officially recognized as such you have to swim in below 5º C water, for a mile, in just a speedo and swim cap. It is incredibly difficult to do, and there are fewer than 100 officially recognized swimmers in the world!

As Canada’s first Ice Swimmer, Paul was honored with an invite to participate in a historic relay swim between Russia and Alaska. It’s an 86km swim that will be taken on by 40 Ice Swimmers from around the world. If they are successful, it will be the first time anyone has successfully swam from the mainland of Russia to the mainland of Alaska.


Given that this was a record breaking opportunity that unfortunately just happens to be happening the exact same week as our English Channel swim, Paul felt that he had to take this once in a lifetime opportunity and the Lake Monsters support that decision completely! Knowing how cold the 8º C water feels when we train, we couldn’t be prouder of Paul both for becoming an Ice Swimmer and for attempting this amazing feat!

Of course, our lake is now too warm for Paul to train in at 10º C, so he has had to start taking unusual steps like filling an 8ft wide kiddie swimming pool with ice and taking ice baths! Kelowna company Interior Ice has sponsored Paul, providing him with free ice to bathe in (probably not a request they deal with every day)!

This should be enough ice for one swim!

This should be enough ice for one swim!

Paul has developed a real passion for ice swimming and open water swimming in general. This year he was nominated for Male Athlete of the Year at the Kelowna Civic Awards for his ice swimming accomplishments. He is a real inspiration. If you would like to meet Paul and hear more about the Bering Strait swim he is having a meet and greet on May 28th at the Hildebrand Sculpture Gallery (1302 St Paul St) from 5-8pm. Everyone is invited!


Checking In with the Lake Monsters: The Team Has Changed but Cold Water Remains the Same

We are 110 days away from our English Channel attempt and we’ve had some big changes on the team. Our teammate Paul spent his winter ice swimming. That involves swimming in water below 5 degrees Celsius, in just a speedo! After swimming a mile in those conditions in December, Paul became Canada’s first official Ice Swimmer, which gained him international attention.

Paul Duffield swimming in the frigid lake this winter. Photo courtesy of Angelique Duffield

Paul Duffield swimming in the frigid lake this winter. Photo courtesy of Angelique Duffield

Since then, Paul has decided to pursue other goals related to Ice Swimming and will not be joining us on the Channel. (More to come about that in a future post.)

So the Lake Monsters are down to five! It means that we’ll each have to swim additional legs of the relay so we have all stepped up our training and will continue to do so over the next couple months. My teammate Phred and I have also begun the acclimatization process again. We got in the lake last weekend on a stormy day. The air temp was 10 degrees and the lake temp was 9! It was a shock after spending the winter in the pool. We spent 20 minutes in the water and will keep adding 10 minutes per week.

Phred and I get in the lake on a stormy, dreary day. Photo courtesy of Ashley Russo.

Phred and I get in the lake on a stormy, dreary day. Photo courtesy of Ashley Russo.

In addition to the swimming and time in the gym that we’ll be putting in over the next couple months, we are also raising money for the Y Strong Kids Campaign. Our lives have been made immeasurably better because of our access sports (and of course, swimming) and we want to make that possible for local children as well. As part of our fundraising campaign, my teammate Phred has designed a Lake Monsters toque and we are selling them for $20 each with all proceeds going to the Y Campaign.


I know it’s spring and everyone is thinking about beach gear but as they say on Game of Thrones “Winter is Coming.” So get yourself a stylish toque for next year and support a worthy local charity while you’re at it. If you would like to buy a toque please email Phred at:

Confessions of a Fat English Channel Swimmer

I’m not a skinny girl. I never have been. Ever. I blame genetics, my love of sweets, and stress eating. Like most people, my weight has gone up and down. I ballooned in junior high where I experienced a fair bit of bullying and fat-shaming. Throughout my 20’s I steadily got back into exercise and slimmed down and in the last couple years I have been the smallest I have ever been. Not skinny, but average.

'Slim' me competing at Provincials in 2012. Photo by Angelique Duffield

‘Slim’ me competing at Provincials in 2012. Photo by Angelique Duffield

So English Channel preparation has been a bit of a challenge for my body image. I’ve put back on 20 pounds. I was only aiming for 15 to help protect me from developing hypothermia in the cold Channel, but my body was quite happy to throw on the extra 5. Even with the extra weight I’m healthy. I swim 3-4 times a week and workout with a trainer at the gym. I just completed my English Channel medical where a stress test not only found me to be healthy, but the cardiologist said I had an athlete’s heart.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that even though I purposefully put on the pounds and am healthy, I still hate that I had to go out and buy new jeans because I couldn’t fit into my old ones. I hate that when I look into the mirror I dislike what I see. And I hate that some days when I look at myself I can hear the taunts of bullies past: “Could you get ANY fatter?”

Me, December 2012, 20 pounds heavier

Me, December 2012, 20 pounds heavier

I would happily keep these embarrassingly personal admissions to myself, but I’ve been disturbed recently by other, more public episodes of fat-shaming in the media. For example, Melissa McCarthy being called a “female hippo” and “tractor-sized” in a recent movie review as though her weight is her defining (and apparently horrifying) feature rather than the fact that she is an amazingly talented and funny actress. Or Australian Olympic Champion Leisel Jones being called out at the 2012 summer Olympics as being “too fat to swim.” What message do these episodes send out to women and girls? If you are not skinny you are not worthy, even if you are a talented actress or have won 8 Olympic medals.

To me, these women are both amazing role models who should be celebrated for their accomplishments. But that isn’t how our society works, and examples such as these remind me that when I walk out the door people are judging me by the size of my body, not by what I am trying to achieve with it.

So I struggle. I have days when I’m proud of my body and the results I achieve in the pool or the gym with it. But I also have days when I am ashamed of it. Nevertheless, I will continue to let myself be photographed at this weight, in a very vulnerable state… in a swimsuit. I hope that even if I continue to struggle with my body image, maybe someone else will see the picture and think “Wow! Look what she’s achieved!” rather than “Wow, look how much she weighs!”

Me getting ready to take my shift while swimming the Georgia Strait in August 2012. Photo by Angelique Duffield

Me getting ready to take my shift while swimming the Georgia Strait in August 2012. Photo by Angelique Duffield

A New Year’s Resolution Success Story

It’s that time of year again, the time when we think about that one thing that we really want to accomplish in the next year and fervently promise ourselves that THIS YEAR we’ll really lose twenty pounds, go to the gym religiously, quit our horrible jobs, etc.

The New Year’s Resolution!

Generally the success rates are not good. How often do we have the same resolution (“No, seriously, this year I’m really going to lose twenty pounds!”) from year to year to year?

So I thought I would give an example of my own of a New Year’s Resolution that I actually fulfilled. New Years 2011 I decided to set myself the goal of completing the Across the Lake Swim. I had heard about the swim ever since moving to Kelowna, but was always away when it occurred. In 2011 I promised myself I would complete it, and although I probably could have survived it without too much training beforehand, I decided to prepare by joining the Okanagan Masters Swim Club. I told myself that as long as I attended practices once a week I would be ready for the swim in July. Well, the first practice had me tomato-faced and gasping for air, not because the practice was extremely difficult, but because I was so out of shape! What had I gotten myself into? But I plugged away, attending practices, and slowly getting in better shape to the point where I was no longer exhausted at the end of practice but exhilarated! By my third month with the club I was swimming three or four times a week instead of just once. I made new friends, fell in love with swimming, and couldn’t wait for my first try crossing the lake.

Ashley, Myself, and Paul are ready to go!

Ashley, Myself, and Paul are ready to go in our matching wetsuits!

When the swim finally rolled around I was nervous but ready. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, swimming with 400 other swimmers, both faster and slower than myself. I had received lots of advice from other swimmers about how to spot the finish line, where to place myself at the start line to avoid being run over, and how to deal with the current (yes, there is a current in our lake!). But when the start gun went off for my group, all planning went out the window and I just put my head down and swam!

Running to the finish while also trying to pull off my cap.

Running to the finish while also trying to pull off my cap.

In the end, I swam faster than I thought I would, but that wasn’t important. What mattered was that I had achieved my goal, a New Year’s Resolution completed! And with it came the added benefits of new friends and new swimming challenges.

My Across the Lake Relay team: The Fintastic Four. Phred, Ashley, Myself, and Paul at the finish line.

My Across the Lake Relay team: The Fintastic Four. Phred, Ashley, Myself, and Paul at the finish line. Photo by Angelique Duffield at

In roughly seven months I will be attempting to achieve pretty much the biggest swimming goal there is, crossing not a lake, but the English Channel. That would never have entered my mind if it weren’t for that New Year’s Resolution to cross our very own lake. So go ahead, make a resolution this year. You never know what might come of it.

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Winter English Channel Training

Winter has arrived. This means our training for the English Channel has had to move inside until the spring. Or at least our swimming has moved inside:

Paul acclimatizes to the cold. Photo by Angelique Duffield

Even though we’re no longer swimming in the lake, we still have to try to stay acclimatized to colder temperatures so that we will be less likely to get hypothermia in the Channel. As can be seen above, Paul has cheekily taken to reading his paper out in the snow. I walk my dog without a jacket and keep my house at a balmy 15 degrees, which means that my dog is now modeling the latest in doggy sweaters on a daily basis. (That’s right, my dog is now wearing more winter clothing than I am. I do see the ridiculousness in this.)

Meanwhile, in the pool, we’re all working on bettering our technique to help prevent injuries and get us moving faster in that cold Channel water. We also just had our first swim meet of the year to test our speed. The Okanagan Masters Swim Club hosted Fright Fest over the Halloween weekend. Part of the tradition of the meet is that the last relay event is done with everyone in costume. This often leads to hilarious results with people’s costumes falling off and creating havoc as they try to swim. Anyone who thinks that swim meets are scary or intensely serious should come watch. It would completely change your perspective.

Look, I know this post seems rather silly. And training for the Channel is serious business. Unprepared swimmers have died attempting the channel. Come January we all have to pass a physical. To prepare, we’re all doing a lot of swimming, and most of us are doing dryland training in the gym as well. But as seriously as we take our training we have to enjoy our moments of silliness and fun along the way. It’s the fun that makes all the hard work worth it.

(Speaking of fun, Paul’s blog about training for the Channel has been nominated for the Best Canadian Sports Blog. It survived the first round of voting to make it to the final round. Please consider clicking on this link and voting for Nothing Great is Easy under the Best Sports Blog category. You don’t have to register or anything. A vote for his blog is a vote for a local guy who’s willing to sit outside in a speedo in winter. That’s worth your click right?)

Checking in with the English Channel Lake Monsters

It’s been a busy fall for the English Channel team. In addition to our weekly lake training, in September, team member Paul Duffield challenged himself to swim in 10 local lakes in 1 day to raise money for the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. Not only did he complete his challenge (which took over 15 hours: from before sunrise to after sunset!), but he also swam over 11kms in the process! (Photo by Angelique Duffield)

You can read about his experience on his blog. Speaking of his blog, it was nominated for the Best Canadian Sports Blog and you can vote for his blog to win until Nov. 1 by going here and clicking “Best Sports Blog” and then clicking “Nothing Great is Easy!”

On Thanksgiving weekend, Mike, Denise, Phred, and myself were in Kalamalka lake. Back in June, everyone except Mike completed a 2 hr swim in 12 degree water to qualify to swim the English Channel. Mike couldn’t take part in that swim due to a shoulder injury so he still needed to qualify. On the Saturday of Thanksgiving the lake was finally cold enough (it had to be 15 degrees or colder), so Mike went in for his qualification and Phred, Denise, and I swam along with him for support. Check out our synchronized swimming:

Last time we had a windy, rainy, cold day but this time it was a nice sunny day and Mike had no trouble completing his two hour swim so the whole team has now officially qualified to swim the channel next summer!

Lake training will continue for the team until the water dips below 10 degrees (brrrr), meanwhile we’re all putting time in at the pool with the Okanagan Masters Swim Club to build up our endurance and speed over the winter to get in top shape for the Channel. And, like Paul, the whole team is raising money for the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign. So far we’ve raised about 1/3 of our overall goal.

This summer has been a learning experience for the team. Six people, with six different personalities and ideas about how training, qualifying, and swimming the Georgia Strait should go has led to some disagreements along the way. We’re learning how to compromise and support each other while taking care of our own needs as well. It’s kind of like a perverted six-person marriage. But I trust these people with my life. In fact, in the Channel next summer we will literally be putting our lives in each other’s hands. What an adventure! (Below: Denise, Paul, Tracey, Mike, Leora, and Phred. Photo by Angelique Duffield)

My (Somewhat Cheeky) Top 5 Reasons That Swimming is More Difficult Than Running

Let me just start by clarifying that I’m comparing open water swimming to running outside. (Swimming in a pool and running on a treadmill are totally different beasts.) This all came up after our Georgia Strait swim when I would tell people that we swam roughly 35km, with my part equalling roughly 6km. Sometimes people would say “Six kilometers, that’s nothing, I can run that in 30 minutes!” So to them I say “Swimming is totally harder than running!!” (While pouting and stamping my foot.)

And here’s why:

5. It’s my guess that not a lot of people die from not knowing how to run, whereas with swimming I give you the word “drowning.”

4. Let’s say you’re out for a long run and you get tired and want to stop. You walk. Same situation in swimming? Good luck walking back across the lake.

3. Similarly, let’s say you’re out for a long run and need to have a drink, you can probably keep running and take that drink at the same time. The only way you can do that swimming is if you drink the water you’re in, which, let’s face it, can be pretty gross (and if salt water, dangerous).

My teammate Paul takes a drink while treading water! Photo by Angelique Duffield at

2. When you’re running you might have to dodge other people, dogs, cars, and potholes. But you’re probably pretty visible to all of them, standing upright and all. Swimming we are pretty much visible only by our brightly colored swim caps. So when we’re dodging boats, paddle-boarders, and kite-surfers in the lake, and ships in the ocean, we’re just a wee dot of color in the water. Oh, and we also have to dodge the jelly-fish, and other marine life in the ocean, and the garbage and logs (that sometimes scarily appear like bodies) in our lake.

1. Runners can breathe whenever they want! Swimming we breathe every 3rd stroke, which means we’re holding our breath 2/3rds of the time!

I rest my case!

Want to know what else makes swimming difficult? Visit my blog or my team mate Paul’s blog, we’ll be happy to tell you all about it.