Swimmer sets her own challenges on the open water

Islander Lise Ellner swims along the Dungeness Spit in Sequim, a 5.5-mile trip. - Courtesy Photo
Islander Lise Ellner swims along the Dungeness Spit in Sequim, a 5.5-mile trip.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

For Islander Lisa Ellner, swimming isn’t just exercise. It’s like a drug.

“It truly is euphoric,” Ellner said. “I crave it. It’s not natural.”

Ellner, a 52-year-old lawyer and mother of two, swims year round in the Puget Sound. Braving the cold water with a wet suit, booties and swim cap, Ellner usually swims near Dilworth Point, where she is joined by fellow swimmers Amy Bogaard and Ann White during the warmer months. But she’s also constantly looking for new, more challenging swims.

“I have a capacity for distance, and I want to see what I can do,” Ellner said. “I don’t have anything to prove, but I enjoy it.”

Last summer, Ellner swam around Blake Island, a 4-mile trip she said was shorter and easier than she expected.

She recently made the swim again, “just for the heck of it, she said.

But Ellner decided to travel farther away for her next challenge: swimming the length of the Dungeness Spit, a 5.5-mile sand spit in Sequim that juts into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“It was a beautiful day,” Ellner said of the early July swim. “The water was gorgeous … and I was by myself except for the seals.”

But swimming the spit, like the first Blake Island trip, turned out to be less challenging than Ellner had expected, largely due to an incoming current. 

“It was rough and wild, but I had a ride. It was a swift current,” she said. “I felt like I could have turned around and swam back.”

Ellner, who has swum her whole life but never competed in the sport, said she loves the freedom she feels while in the water. Plus, she added, after a high school rowing career that led to several injuries, swimming is the easiest activity on her body.

“I’m so thrilled that I can still do something,” she said with a laugh.

While Ellner swims often at the Vashon Athletic Club, she said she loves the feeling of being in the open water and the views she gets while swimming just off Vashon’s shoreline, home to a wide variety of fish and brightly colored sea creatures. She even passes seals and sea lions, though she is careful to steer clear of them.

“You see stuff you wouldn’t see otherwise; you are in another world,” she said. “It’s an incredible world that we have access to.”

And somehow, she said, the cold water doesn’t seem bother her as much as it bother others who have braved the Sound. 

“Whatever my physiology is, I can do it,” she said.

Next up, Ellner is planning a swim along Colvos Passage, from Lisabeula to the north-end ferry dock. Though one might think it would be an easy trip because of the north-flowing current, she said, the many points and bays that trap water acutually make the passage a challenge

“The last couple times I swam there I haven’t gotten much of a ride because there are too many eddies,” she said. 

The trip will be about 8 miles — Ellner’s longest yet. And though she doesn’t expect it to be quick, she said that you never quite know where the water will take you on a given day. Just having completed a circumnavigation of Blake Island for the second time, she said the trip took her an hour longer than last year because of the currents she encountered.

“My next challenge is going to have to be by time, not by distance.” she said.



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