Jill Yoneda – Marathon Swimmer

As the sun rises Jill Yoneda, an ultra marathon swimmer born in Victoria, British Columbia Canada stands on a dock prior to attempting a nine hour, 19km swim in the Pacific Ocean from Goldstream Boathouse to Mill Bay Marina on Vancouver Island, British Columbia Canada on September 1st, 2019.
Diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease, compartment syndrome, drop foot, and a rare condition known as popliteal artery entrapment syndrome Yoneda swims to raise money for Canuck Place, a British Columbia paediatric palliative care provider for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Yoneda explains that “the accumulation of injuries and disorders that I have suffered through were the catalyst for me to begin pushing the limits of possibilities for myself instead of listening to the advice of my doctors who stated my goals were impossible. Perseverance through these injuries and illnesses have made me determined to live a vital life, and not to spend my days feeling sorry for myself and giving in to the pain.”
Yoneda stands next to the Goldstream Marina office deciding on whether or not to wear a prototype wetsuit fitted with a zippered flap designed for bathroom breaks prior to walking to the water and meeting with her support team.
Yoneda says that “prior to a big swim I eat a well rounded, healthy diet that’s heavy in carbs, while choosing foods that aren’t going to affect my bowels too much the next day. (yes, i have to think about this). So I avoid high fibre foods the night before.”
Before being able to successfully walk down the boat ramp Yoneda must first attach and tighten the straps on her drop foot brace.
Drop foot occurs when someone has difficulty lifting the front part of their foot. During the swim Yoneda will have limited use of her legs relying mostly on her arms to propel herself forward.
Yoneda glides through the water taking advantage of an ebbing tide as she swims North towards Mill Bay.
“I see the courage of Canuck Place children and families, and the power of the human spirit.” explains Yoneda. “I think my swim is ultimately successful if it provides a platform to start a conversation about caring for and supporting children with life-threatening illnesses.”
Yoneda is guided in the distance by volunteer stand up paddle boarders Darren Bachiu and Meghan Kelly while Shane Battley points his paddle while speaking with swim logistics leader Dale Robinson.
Yoneda says “there are times during the swims when I feel like crying and I will look at whoever is with me, and frequently I will see them looking into my eyes each time I come up for air and they are smiling at me, encouraging me. They keep me going. I know that these swims are hard, exhausting and boring for them at times which makes me appreciate every single one of them even more.”
Yoneda floats in the 11 degree water gargling with mouth wash attempting to combat the effects of salt mouth. Salt mouth is one of the most significant factors for long swims such has this.
Yoneda explains that “the worse part about being submerged in salt water for so long is the ‘salt mouth’. Hideous open sores, cankers and blisters on the inside of my mouth, down my throat and on my tongue. The skin begins to break on the tongue and comes off in chunks for days, leaving the mouth extremely painful.”
Swim logistics leader Dale Robinson,left, records Yoneda’s stroke rate, nutrition, speed, as well as the weather and her location while Shane Battley, paddle board support coordinator, middle and Steve Sharples owner of the support boat analyze information from a GPS monitor.
Yoneda explains that “as we plan for a longer swims the focus should not only be on my health and safety, but also that of my crew, especially those in the water with me. They need to be well rested, well fed and on top of their game to ensure I’m not falling asleep or swallowing too much salt water. They may have to deal with vomiting, pulmonary oedema and anything else that may come up. I want the focus to be on us as a team with the common goal of pushing boundaries and using that as a platform to raise money for Canuck Place.”
Yoneda takes a drink of ice tea at the halfway mark of her 19km swim. While in the water she drank a combination of protein shakes, ice tea ,flat Coca-Cola while eating a baby food squeeze pack, seven protein bars, two homemade peanut butter squares, two peaches, four cups of pasta, one banana and a hamburger from local restaurant Bridgeman’s Bistro upon her arrival in Mill Bay.
Yoneda’s elbows begin to drop and her stroke rate slows in the final hour of her nine hour, 19km swim but she continues to push forward as she approaches her destination.
Yoneda started out her swimming career as a freediver, and dove for Team Canada in 2006, 2008, and 2012. She holds three world records for dynamic apnea with a personal best of swimming 150 meters underwater while holding her breath.
Yoneda explains that she “simply gives into the moods of the ocean, gliding easily along clear, smooth days and increasing my strength and brute force when I am being challenged by the sea’s grumpy days. Due to all the hardware in my neck, it is difficult for me to swim head up, which is what you need to do in big waves, so i never try to overpower the sea but persevere as best as I can.”
During the final meters of her swim a man and a dog watch as Darren Bachiu and Shane Battley guide Yoneda past the docks and boats moored at Mill Bay Marina.
Yoneda said that “the ocean is alive, constantly moving and full of life which breathes life into me. I feel like a guest in the ocean, being welcomed into her arms for a privileged short time.”
With the sun setting Yoneda exits the water cautiously as she is quickly reminded of her drop foot disability and the additional challenges it presents on land.
“By the end of these long swims every part of my body is aching to be out of the water and to be wrapped in a warm towel. But at the same time I know it was a privilege to have been a part of the ocean and as much as I’m craving to get out, I know that as soon as I hit land, I will be aching to get back into the water.” said Yoneda.
With goggle marks around her eyes and swim bloat due to the absorption of water through the skin Yoneda poses for a portrait after the completion of her swim.
Yoneda explains that what she is most proud of upon the completion of a swim is “the instant gratification that myself and my crew completed another swim together, that we grew more as a team and as a family. That we did everything safely. And that we are all proud of the money we were able to raise for the children and families supported by the generosity and hard working people of Canuck Place.”