Posts in Inspiration

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

Ecotone 2013 – Tonight!

ecotoneWhere: Rotary Centre for the Arts (421 Cawston Avenue, Kelowna)
When: Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 – 4 PM—2AM
How Much: $10 Students / $15 General / $5 Kids & Alternator Members. All proceeds towards artists making this event possible through the Okanagan Greens Society.
For: Everyone

The annual, local, underground creative gathering known as Ecotone is happening again!

Conduit Collective has once again partnered with the Okanagan Greens Society in creative collaboration with the pan Okanagan creative community to showcase over 100 emerging and established artists, featuring, installation art, sculpture, performance art, activism, gardening, crafts, musical performances, poetry and spoken word.

This is the 6th festival the Conduit Collective has organized, and was created for the purpose of bringing together the gifts, ideas, and talents of established and emerging creative tribes in the Okanagan. For up to date scheduling of performance and artists roster please visit

“This festival helps support the local arts community, and enables innovation to occur and be recognized. The past six years have been very enlightening as to seeing the support within this community that rarely has the opportunity to gather on mass like this, and we are excited for the experience again this year.” says festival organizer, Gabe Cipes.

Music performances will include Wild Son, Killer Panda, Kinshira and Rumpus Room. There will be original art work on display all around the centre by a number of artists including Kristoff Steinruck, Jordan and David Doody, Meghan Wise, Ullus Collective and Rena Warren just to name a few. The corridors will be filled with tables featuring local crafters wares and activists including Curio Designs, Green City Acres, Green Peace, Scribbled Sun, and many, many more.

This event is designed to harness the diversity of creativity in our community and is not to be missed!

Conduit would like to recognize the support of the Okanagan Greens Society, “Working together in our community for a healthy environment, happy people and a sustainable local economy.” For more information and a full list of contributors, visit the event Facebook page.

Life Is Worth Living

Believe That Life Is Worth Living

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

William James (1842—1910)

Photo by oldchildmedia from the I Love the Okanagan flickr group.

Happy New Year

beginnings are always fresh

Coming from the West Side, Fire Works on New Years Eve! New beginnings are always fresh.

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.

For Ermengarde, Wherever You May Find Her

I recently received a Facebook message from my friend Kaela, owner of Frock Clothing Co. in downtown Kelowna. It was partially a thank-you to a number of people she credits for inspiring her and also a large blog post about a chance encounter she recently had, how it affected her, how the person she met was affected, and piece of personal advice. I felt it was important to share her post here, with her blessing of course, in case any other creative types were feeling tired, burned-out or confused about where they are in life.

I got the most incredible letter today from a girl whom I met while she was shopping in my store. Let’s call her Ermengarde for storytelling purposes (after a character in my favourite childhood novel. I was always like: wow. Cool name.) Ermengarde was at a crossroads when we first spoke: feeling like she needed to pursue something creative, but also feeling the pressure to succeed financially. These two things aren’t always mutually exclusive (pretty sure Angelina Jolie isn’t ripping through the ‘seen-better-days bargain basket’ at the co-op looking for the loaf of bread with the most easily removable mold). Unfortunately, the term “starving artist” exists for a reason. There are no pensions. There are no “benefits” if you get sick. Job security is as tangible as a pet unicorn, and you’re often asked to work for free. (think of the exposure!) In fact, most of the artists i know have a Joe-job to cover their bills.

Joe-job (noun): The thing you get paid minimum wage to do so that you can afford your career as an artist; e.g. Server, salesperson, pretending to be a criminal at the justice institute while police in training interview you (yes, that’s a job, and yes, you do have to sign a waiver stating that if your acting is so great that you force an officer to physically restrain you and you get hurt, you will not sue).

My First Impression of Ermengarde: A Paragraph

This girl is beautiful. If you were standing behind her in a bookstore line you’d be irritated because she’s too pretty to be reading books and being all smart. That’s not fair to the rest of us. It crossed my mind that I should probably trip her because life is going to be too easy for her and someone needs to teach her that life is hard. Like a floor. After books fall on you. But then when she speaks she’s gracious and funny. She laughs at herself. She’s totally vulnerable when she talks about her dreams, and vulnerability in anyone is so lovable because it makes us feel less afraid to open our own hearts a little. I remember thinking after she left: wow. That girl will succeed no matter what she does. I actually thought that! When does that happen?? And then I got this letter.

Letter from Ermengarde

She starts by thanking me. She says I am inspiring and that my last blog post really moved her. My first thought: holy shitballs! Someone who isn’t my best friend is actually reading my blog!!!! Yessssssssssss!!!! My second thought: ooooh shitballs. Am I being honest in my blogs? I’m a shit-show. Did I clarify that somewhere?? Dear reader: these are my thoughts. I want to share them with you but be forewarned – I’m a total flake. If you want to be inspired you should find a different blog from someone who actually knows stuff. I can’t remember putting that in my last blog. I have a mild panic attack and then continue reading.

Ermengarde goes on to say that she feels lost. She’s got the 9 to 5 job and the boyfriend. She bakes. Her home is so clean it sparkles and she’s hosting this year’s Christmas party. Somehow her life turned into a cookie cutter existence and she’s lost her spirit. She wants advice. She wants to know if I really believe in jumping into something without having any idea where you’ll end up or what the consequences might be. She asks me what steps she should take. She thinks I’m qualified to answer these questions because I’ve somehow opened a business that’s artsy. Jesus.

Continue Reading…

Swimming the Salish Sea: Part 2 – Success!

Miss Part 1? Catch up!

Phred, Paul, Mike, Leora, Denise, Connor (our coach’s son who swam in to the finish with us) and Tracy celebrate swimming across the Georgia Strait.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of hitting land after spending almost 11 hours swimming or cheering on your swimming teammates. On Saturday August 11th, the OMSC Lake Monsters completed a roughly 35 km swim from Sechelt on the mainland to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It took us 10 hours and 46 minutes. We were swimming alongside another team from Victoria who eventually pulled out of the swim when we hit rough currents and were told that we might not make it. Even when given the bad news we were determined to go on and we made it! We actually made it! We owe so much to our Navigator John Dafoe and our boat Captain Ann Clemence. They made it possible for us to complete the swim.

Paul, Phred, Denise, Mike, Tracy, and myself each swam one hour shifts and rotated through until we were able to complete the swim. Although we had good weather, there were some big waves in the middle of the straight, along with the strong current that put us in danger of not being able to complete the swim. It was a day that required us all to battle our own physical and mental demons.

The MVP awards of the day go to Phred and Tracy. Phred was swimming with severe tendonitis in his elbow. Even though he was in pain, he was more concerned about letting down his team than about his own discomfort and didn’t tell us until afterwards just how tough the swim had been for him.

Phred dives off the boat for his shift in the water

And Tracy not only had to deal with the worst of the currents when we got close to Nanaimo, she also had to deal with suddenly being a tourist attraction to the people on the Nanaimo ferries! The boats came in close for a good look at what we were doing, which meant that she had to deal with some considerable boat roll whenever they came by!

The ferry comes in close for a look at the crazy swimmers!

After my nerves about encountering sea life, we were pretty much left alone, some seals checked us out from their spots sunning themselves on nearby islands and a few jelly fish were spotted, and I heard some dolphins at one point during my swim but we never spotted them (which did play a little havoc on me mentally to be able to hear them but not see them!).

I can’t speak for my teammates, but completing the Salish Sea swim had a huge impact on me and my confidence. I realized that I could tough it out mentally and physically, even when my arms were screaming and sore during my second shift, I was able to push myself beyond anything I thought I was capable of. And being out in the middle of the strait, not knowing what sea life was around me or below me, was pretty scary. I realized I had to just shut down all thoughts of my fears and concentrate on each stroke. I’m not a natural athlete, and no one who looked at me would think I was, but I proved something to myself on Saturday about my abilities.

So I ask you, if a chubby girl like me can swim the Georgia Strait, and attempt the English Channel next year, what could you be doing that you aren’t?

I get ready to jump in for my first shift of swimming.

Something that you can do, is help us with our fundraising goals for the Y Strong Kids Campaign. As part of our journey towards the English Channel we’re raising money for the campaign that allows underprivileged children access to all of the Y programs (including swim lessons) and gives them memberships to the facilities. Swimming the Georgia Strait was our first challenge in our fundraising efforts, but we’ll continue to challenge ourselves between now and the English Channel next summer. If you would like to help our team and help the children please go to our team fundraising page here. Any amount of money that you could spare would be greatly appreciated!

(All photos provided courtesy of Angelique Duffield at

Swimming the Salish Sea: Part 1

The OMSC Lake Monsters are now less than a year away from our English Channel attempt, so in preparation we’ll be swimming a practice run closer to home by attempting to cross the Georgia Strait. The Salish Sea swim takes place every August (this year it will be on August 11th) and will have us swimming from Sechelt on the mainland to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

Happily, all of us are now healthy and injury free, so all 6 of us will be swimming according to English Channel rules. That means we only wear a swimsuit, cap, and goggles in the 15C water and we each swim for an hour at a time in rotation. Each incoming swimmer will have to pass the previous swimmer in the water before the first swimmer can get back on the safety boat. We will be accompanied by an experienced boat captain and will have an EMT on board, as well as Coast Guard support.

Practicing for the Strait in Okanagan Lake on a windy day. Photo by Angelique Duffield at

This year we will be one of three relay teams taking part in the swim. One is a team of 2 women from Vancouver Island, and the other is a team of 4 men from Vancouver. The Victoria team has challenged the rest of us to a race, the slowest team across the Strait buys the celebratory drinks afterwards. The swim will take us roughly 35km across the Strait, but currents, wind, and waves could make it much longer. We are expecting to complete the swim in 9-12 hours depending on the conditions, which will require each of us to swim 3km or more per hour.

In addition to the challenge of the swim itself, we will also have to deal with the potential issues of seasickness (it will be dangerous for us to become dehydrated), stinging jellyfish, and the mental test of swimming in the deep dark sea. Last year two local swimmers completed the swim as part of a 4-woman relay team.  You can read about their wild experience here.

With the swim being just about a week away I am excited but nervous. Whiplash has kept me out of the water for the past month, which means that I am not as conditioned as I should be. Also I’m worried about the seasickness. I’ve never had a problem with it before but I really don’t want to spend my rest time on the boat hurling over the railing. Usually when I travel to the island I always want to see killer whales, but this time they can stay away. I don’t want to be mistaken for a nice yummy seal (although I guess the wetsuited swimmers on the other relay teams are more in danger of that).

Once I am home and recovered from the swim I will write all about it and post pictures in Part 2. If you can’t wait that long to find out whether it is the Vancouver or Victoria team that buys us drinks afterwards then you can check out my blog. I’ll update it throughout the day on August 11th.