Marathon swimmer smashes provincial record with epic 80 km journey across Strait of Georgia

By Ian Holmes
August 5, 2018 - 4:25pm Updated: August 5, 2018 - 8:40pm

Jill Yoneda completed a grueling 79.6 kilometere swim Saturday evening. She said her entire face is swollen from the salt water and has difficulty speaking.Russell Clark/

Jill Yoneda said to the best of her knowledge nobody has swam longer than 35 km continuously in BC waters. She completed a 79.6 km swim Saturday evening.Submitted photo

NANAIMO — While it wasn't where she planned to finish, nobody has swam further in B.C. than Jill Yoneda.

Her astonishing 79.6-kilometre swim finished early Saturday evening after conquering the often unforgiving sea separating Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Yoneda told NanaimoNewsNOW it's believed 35-kilometres was the previous record for the longest non-stop swim in provincial waters.

"I think there was a one six-hour period where I was swimming as hard as I could and I could see the shore but it just never looked closer and that was really hard mentally on me."

Yoneda said there were several occasions while going nowhere stuck in currents that she wanted to quit.

Her swim spanning the Salish Sea twice between Nanaimo and Sechelt ended on Lasqueti Island early Saturday evening, lasting 25 hours and 16 minutes.

Yoneda, 43, originally planned to complete a 70 kilometre uninterrupted swim from Nanaimo's Neck Point to Sechelt and back in an estimated 24-hour journey. However, strong currents derailed her voyage away from Nanaimo and to Lasqueti's southeastern tip.

Her family joked afterward about punishing herself enough and being finished with swims of this length.

Yoneda, who admitted to being a bit stubborn, has other ideas.

"Already the wheels are turning, 'Hmmm, what's the world record? Let's start thinking about that? Maybe I'll take a year off and train a lot better.' My training wasn't that great because I had so many medical issues."

What makes Yoneda's 80 km non-stop swim so remarkable is the severe health challenges hurled her way. Yoneda has had several spinal surgeries due to a degenerative disc disease. She has chronic left foot mobility issues, as well as a displaced rib which makes breathing more challenging. Yoneda was hobbled by a broken ankle suffered last Christmas Day, which she said put her training three months behind schedule.

Yoneda said she is an uncoached, self-taught marathon swimmer, who turned to YouTube videos and books for guidance. She plans to find a professional coach.

She hoped her accomplishment strikes a chord with people who perhaps put limitations on themselves.

"I'm 43-years-old, I'm not this young 19, 20-year-old Olympic athlete. I'm far from that, but we can still do things, we just have to put our mind to it."

Yoneda was monitored during the swim by an extensive team of 22 volunteers, who helped guide her, deliver food, provide overnight light, and ensure she was healthy enough to continue.

Two years ago, Yoneda swam 25 consecutive kilometres in the Great Bear Rainforest in B.C.'s central coast. Yoneda then successfully completed a 35 kilometre non-stop swim last summer from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, her hometown.

Yoneda used her Strait of Georgia swim as a platform to raise money for her charity of choice, Canuck Place Children's Hospice. She has helped generate more than $11,000 in donations, more than doubling her original goal.

You can donate to her cause here.


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On Twitter: @reporterholmes

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