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Camp counsellor to swim from Squamish to Gambier Island

Just before 6 a.m. on Aug. 19, Crawford is set to start a 31-kilometre swim from Squamish to Gambier Island.
Kendall Crawford

While many enjoy a summer day dip in the ocean, few take it to the level that Kendall Crawford of Gambier Island’s Camp Fircom has. Just before 6 a.m. on Aug. 19, Crawford is set to start a 31-kilometre swim from Sp'akw'us Feather Park in downtown Squamish to the camp’s Canoe Cove.

“I'll undoubtedly be going against Howe Sound's typical midday winds, and while I'm predicting a twelve-hour swim, there's a lot of variables that could influence that,” Crawford told Coast Reporter by email.

Second swim in support of Camp Fircom

This adventure will take her over twice the distance she completed in a swim last year from the camp to Horseshoe Bay.  As in 2021, her efforts are a fundraiser. Last year, during her three hour and 48-minute lap she raised over $5,700, which helped with the purchase of a safety boat for the camp. 

That boat will be used by her support team on this year’s swim. Money raised this year is earmarked for the "Fircom Beautification Project". Crawford said it “will support a lot of site goals we have for the camp to improve safety, beauty, and accessibility. One major facet of this will be turning the tangle of brush and invasive plants beside the dining hall into a functional outdoor space for eating, gathering with friends and family, and growing some of the beautiful, edible, and medicinal plants, herbs, and flowers that are indigenous to the area. 

“We're already seeing some incredibly generous donations and pledges towards this…One way we've built the fundraiser around this swim is through offering a dollar-per-kilometre pledge system, which certainly encourages me to just keep swimming. It would be amazing if we could cross the $10,000 mark when all is said and done!”

Donors can make pledges through links on the camp's social media accounts. The @campfircom Instagram and Facebook page will post some photos/video throughout the swim, and a url will be posted so that people can use to see where Crawford is along the route as the day goes on.

From a pool to the Sound

Crawford first learned about Camp Fircom, where she works as a year-round guest experience counsellor, after signing up for a volunteer work weekend in 2018.  The now 28-year-old, originally from Bothell, Washington, moved to B.C. for university studies almost 10 years ago. She transitioned from weekend volunteer, to part-time staffer and to her current role with the camp in 2021 and has been “living, working, and swimming here ever since.”

“I was a devoted, though never especially competitive, pool swimmer as a child on my local YMCA's swim team, where endurance events were my favourite. But it took a while for me to realize that swimming long distances in the ocean was a "thing", and more specifically, a "thing" I could do.

“Fircom is directly tied to my story of becoming an open-water swimmer. The camp is positioned on the southeast side of Gambier Island, this beautiful little spot on the water in Howe Sound. I was doing laps near the shore of Deep Cove one day, and I spotted a woman swimming back into shore from a long ways out. Her name was Chris, and she was kind enough to stop and introduce both herself and the world of open water swimming to me in a conversation we held whilst treading water. She let me try out her tow-float, a safety must for this sport, and from then on, I was a lot smarter about my swims, more connected with the swimming community, and more aware that this was a sport I could grow in.”

Crawford left the camp to take a teaching job in the Ditidaht First Nation at Lake Nitinat on the west coast of Vancouver Island for the 2020/21 school year.

“Teaching in that beautiful community was an amazing experience. However, due to the remoteness of the community and widespread limitations for travel and socializing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself a bit at a loss for what to do with myself in the hours outside of my work. I ended up filling it with swimming. When I returned to Fircom, I had reached a whole new stage of my fitness journey and was happily swimming for hours at a time. It made me recall an old joke my co-workers would crack when the water taxi booked to take us back to the mainland was running late: "Kendal, you could just swim home instead!" I began to think -- huh, I actually probably could at this point.”

And that was the spark for her long-distance swim fundraiser ideas. She is conducting her 2022 swim according to Marathon Swim Federation regulations. That organization’s rules are followed by most of the English Channel swimmers. They limit the swimmer to only the most basic of equipment: swimsuit, cap and goggles. They also prohibit supportive contact with their support team, and ask for documented evidence of statistics including air and water temperature, wind speed and direction, the swimmers stroke rate, how often they pause to eat or drink, and what they consume.

“In addition to the work I put in towards my attempt to fully meet these standards, I also had to pull together an extensive plan to ensure the safety and preparedness of myself and my support team, such as connecting with BC Ferries to ensure a successful departure across their ferry lanes.

“Luckily I had immense support from family, friends, and two incredible BC swim legends who offered me invaluable advice and encouragement -- the incredible Susan Simmons and Jessi Harewicz.”

When asked about what she’ll be craving at the end of this year’s swim, she commented that “the first thing I wish I could go for when I come ashore is a vegan blossom smoothie bowl… However that's hard to come by on our little off-the-grid island… I'm probably looking forward the most to calling my parents, who are my biggest supporters. I'm hoping to then celebrate with my co-workers at camp, especially those on my boat support team, without whom none of this would be possible.”

Camp Fircom history

Camp Fircom began operating in the 1920’s as an outreach program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Rev. J. Richard Craig and his congregation from the First Presbyterian Church, the forerunner of First United Church, purchased a 65-acre homestead on Gambier Island that became the camp, offering young people from one of Canada’s least prosperous neighbourhoods an opportunity to enjoy time near the ocean and in nature. In 1979, the Camp Fircom Society incorporated as a non-profit. 

The camp shut down between 2005 and 2010 for a major renovation. The improvements made allowed it to supplement youth camp operations with commercial rentals. It reopened in May 2011. 

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