A blind man who grew up in Williams Lake plans to swim across the Georgia Strait this July to raise money so others like him can get a guide dog.

Two years ago, 39-year-old Scott Rees welcomed a yellow Labrador named Kaleb from Canadian Dogs for the Blind into his home.

Kaleb has proven to be a great companion and great family pet when not working.

“My wife Alex and I have two children and he’s a big part of the family,” Scott told Black Press Media. “We hit it off straight away and he immediately became very fond of my wife. He has accepted us as his adoptive family and is living quite a happy life.”

Kaleb just turned six and was a little older when they got him than guide dogs usually are, which Scott attributed to a by-product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year Scott decided to do a fundraiser for Canadian Dogs for the Blind and started it in March 2022.

He started training for it and doing the footwork behind the scenes.

Scott originally hoped to raise $20,000, but as of July 10, Swim the Strait has raised more than $100,000 in donations.

“I’m still training and depending on the weather we might have to postpone the swim for a day, two or three. It depends on the wind. If the swell was very strong, the Straits of Georgia would not be safe for the boats and me.”

Aside from being a 30km straight-line swim, he said he had to deal with currents and waves that would make the course a bit longer.

Good friends accompany him in a support boat while swimming.

An old friend, Tom Griffiths, will be the boatman and Joost Van Woerden will be his swim nutritionist.

“Being blind I need a headset for navigation and Joost will radio me to keep me on course.”

Another friend, Dr. Ben Bauer, will make sure Scott stays healthy and doesn’t get too cold while swimming.

His brother-in-law, Cameron MacCarthy, will operate a second boat in case there are any mechanical problems with the first boat.

That way they have a backup plan.

“I owe a lot to a lot of people for fundraising and planning,” Scott said.

Jeff Murphy, Canadian Dogs for the Blind volunteer programs and events coordinator, said Scott’s Swim the Strait fundraiser is a unique effort and a truly remarkable endeavor.

“We were all amazed and touched by the public’s reaction and are grateful for their support. When Scott first proposed the idea for this fundraiser, I don’t think any of us, including Scott, expected it to be so successful.”

Murphy said they’re very excited for Scott’s swim practice and from his last chat with him he knows he’s looking forward to focusing on his training this week and getting in the water for his attempt on the 22nd.

According to the International Guide Dog Foundation, approximately 2,400 guide dog teams are trained worldwide each year.

The organization trains between 24 and 30 guide dog teams each year and has trained 934 teams as of May 2023.

They receive no ongoing funding from any level of government and are funded solely by donations. Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind offers free services to its customers and the guide dogs have been used in all provinces of Canada and also in the Nunavut area.

Scott expects the swim to last between 10 and 12 hours, again depending on conditions, but he’s hoping to be within 10 hours.

Scott wasn’t born blind.

His father, Walter Rees, a retired Williams Lake doctor, and his mother, Kathy Rees, have four children, three of whom suffer from vision loss.

“My brother and one of my sisters have vision problems, albeit a little differently. Mine is called retinitis pigmentosa. Three of the four of us were affected by a recessive gene that both of our parents carried.”

Scott can see light when looking up at the sky, but no longer has functional eyesight to see faces, shapes, or read text.

As a child, he competed in swimming at Williams Lake.

Chad Webb, who coaches the local Blue Fins swim team, was his coach in high school.

In 2001, Scott moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia. He is now a civil engineer working for a private company in downtown Vancouver.

“I am fortunate to live in the current age of modern technology. I listen to everything and I can type and listen to what I type.”

He works with technical analysis and reports and does everything by listening.

When asked if he was a good listener as a kid, he giggled loudly.

“That’s a good question,” he replied. “I guess I’d have to ask my parents. I think so.”

Losing his sight has given him up some favorite pastimes, like whitewater kayaking, which he says took up all of his free time.

Scott never expected to receive so much support for the Canadian Dogs for the Blind fundraiser, which was organized as a third-party fundraiser.

“Every dollar raised goes directly to the charity. “Professionally trained guide dogs come at a high cost,” he said. “The training, the vet bills and the facilities – they’re a lot of expenses that use money.”

On Saturday, July 22nd, Scott will depart from Davis Bay near Sechelt and head to Pipers Lagoon near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

He said the route is comparable to the famous crossing of the English Channel or the California island of Santa Catalina, but less well known.

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