This summer Jen Soti aims to do a fundraising swim flooded with meaning and memory.
To benefit Ecojustice Canada, the Surrey resident will swim 15 kilometres of Harrison Lake in tribute to her father, Jim Keeling Jr., who drowned there 27 years ago, followed by a 35K run on forest roads surrounding the lake, for a total of 50K.
Soti’s swim/run is planned Aug. 17, when she’ll celebrate her 50th birthday.
At age 50, her father died in a boating accident on May 18, 1996.
“I will be swimming from the town of Harrison to the exact point where he drowned,” explained Soti, a fitness instructor and personal trainer.
She’s a member of the Keeling family that helped build Cloverdale Raceway horse track (now Fraser Downs) in Surrey.
“I pass by there every day,” Soti noted. “On my running route I always make sure to go by there, and on my computer screen I have a picture of it as well. I worked there, too, selling what they called the gold sheets and Doc’s picks.”
Soti’s grandfather, Jim Keeling Sr., was a co-founder of the track, which opened in 1976. In 1980 he gave the reins to his son, Soti’s father. At age 92, the senior Keeling died in 1999, three years after his son, and was later inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Keeling Jr. was a lawyer by profession and served on the board of Sierra Legal Defence Fund, now known as Ecojustice Canada, the nation’s largest environmental law charity.
Soti explains her money-raising motivation in a “Swim Run Fundraiser for My Father” post on gofundme.com.
“We did not grow up in a religious household,” she notes. “But I believe, similar to Henry David Thoreau, for my dad, nature was a religion. Environmentalism and naturism were not recognized ‘religions’ back in 1996, but if this was an organized religion, my dad would have been one of the adherents. He was passionately committed to helping environmental organizations.
“This fundraising effort is a way for my dad to have a voice,” Soti adds. “Completing this endurance swim and run will be one of the ways that I can show respect and honour to my father.”
So far, as of May 17, the online campaign has raised $3,380 of its modest $5,000 goal, with 37 donations tallied.
Neil McGill gave $100 and props to Soti.
“Jen has been my personal trainer at the Grandview (Heights) Aquatic Centre for a few years, and I could not say enough good things about her,” McGill posted on the page.
“I think this task she has taken on is so heartfelt, and the compassion she has to complete it goes far beyond any competitive thing she has ever done. I know she will succeed.”
In water and on land, Soti has been training hard for her 50K swim/run, including time in two swim groups.
“I am not a competitive swimmer, I’m a recreational swimmer who swims regularly,” she noted. “I have done a longer swim at Harrison Lake, maybe three kilometres, but I’ve never attempted to do 15K.”
She’ll “definitely” don a wetsuit for her lengthy swim in glacier-fed Harrison.
“My pace, I’m hoping to average 2,500 metres per hour, so the swim should take around six hours — that’s the hope,” explained Soti.
“I thought of this idea when I was taking a boat ride up to Harrison from the boat launch area,” she added, “and I remember a time when I tried to row from the cabin to Harrison, and it was my dad who was worried that I’d been gone a very long time. He was worried for me and sent out a search crew for me, and so with that, that moment stayed with me because he was so concerned.”
Soti is well aware of the circular nature of her fundraising efforts.
“We had a saying that life is like a race track, going around in a circle, and I’m not sure all this would have happened without COVID because (the pandemic) gave me time to read and write and reflect, and that’s when it dawned on me that I’d be the same age as my father this year, when he died, and he had so much life left to live. That’s the really unfortunate thing.
“That’s when I got thinking of ways to honour him, give him that voice and do something for Ecojustice. I’m not nearly as mindful about my own ecological footprint on this earth, but I’m getting better.”