By SOPHIE BONOMI
HANSVILLE — It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, a dare from friends, or a Facebook challenge.
Her parents, although supportive, didn’t force her to do it. In fact, it was just the opposite — it was mind over water.
On Aug. 22, 2015, 11-year old Lena Bowen made up her mind to completely submerge herself in a natural body of water every day for a year. Despite school studies, chilly Pacific Northwest weather, and a fear of sea creatures, Lena is expected to accomplish her goal in two days.
As her submerging streak comes to an end, she reflected on a year of plunges and how she stuck with her “refreshing” aquatic ambition.
“The two-hundredth day was just a normal Tuesday,” she said. “Last February, I started to think I forgot my jump the day before, so we took pictures to make sure.”
Considered by some to be the “Northwest Mermaid,” Lena (a Pisces) said she’s always loved the water.
“I love the ocean,” she said. “I like the feeling of being weightless in the water.”
Lena comes from a water-loving family. Her mom, Tami, was a competitive swimmer in California from early childhood through high school. The family home is located on the bluff about a half mile from Point No Point beach.
She said she just kind of “fell in” to her year-long goal.
Last year, while on a weekend vacation with friends in Lemolo, Lena began the start of her streak.
“I realized I’d already been doing it for three or four days,” she said. “I decided, sitting on the landing of my grandmother’s stairs at her house in Driftwood Keys, to keep it going.”
Although primarily dunking in the Puget Sound, Lena has jumped in various oceans, lakes and rivers. Some of her destinations during the past year have included the Deschutes, Methow, Charles and Wenatchee rivers, Buck Lake, Lena Lake, Agate Passage, the Salish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s been really impressive to see an eleven year old (she was 10 when she started) decide to do something every day for a year,” Tami said. “It’s inspirational to us… even adults say, ‘I can’t do anything for a year straight.’”
Lena said of keeping her goal, “Sometimes, you just gotta do it.”
“I think it’s special because I’m the only one doing it,” she said. “I’m the one who decided to do it and I kept going with it.”
Unlike many who make a commitment to stick with a goal, Lena has no process — there’s no schedule or list to check off, she just jumps in — literally. Sometimes she doesn’t even bring a towel.
“She kind of just rolls with it,” Tami said. “I tried to make her wear a swimsuit in the winter, but she’s stubborn, and just wore a bikini most of the time.”
Lena’s parents, Tami and Clark, have assisted her in achieving her goal by driving her to various beaches and rivers. But there were some days, Tami explained, when they said, “I’m just not driving you down there.”
Even on those days, Lena found a way by riding her bike or cascading down the bluff via the rope from their house.
Lena described her worst swim at 9:30 p.m. in the heart of a November storm last year, when she was unable to swim at Point No Point because the logs were violently crashing on the shore.
“I finally was able to jump in at Buck Lake,” she said. “In the winter I would do my jumps before school to get them over with.”
Even at her summer camp at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island, she had to submit a video and a petition as to why she needed to swim everyday.
“I was nervous I wasn’t able to do my swims there with their schedule,” she said. “But the camp let me do it.”
With the final day of her streak just around the corner, Lena said, “I’m gonna be sad, but there’s always hope to do it next year.”
The born adventurer plans to complete another year-long streak. Because she has her sights set on being a photographer when she grows up, she said she might do a photo a day. She hopes to get a GoPro to capture her experiences.
Although the future is unknown for the “Northwest Mermaid,” one thing is for certain, she’s learned at a young age she has the power to accomplish her goals.
“Just no regrets,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things and I say it a lot… Sometimes even if you hesitate at first, you just gotta do it anyway.”
Lena plans to celebrate the completion of her goal with a big beach party, inviting her family and friends to their home in Hansville — where they might all just take a plunge, one more time.
Above, Lena Bowen heads out into the sea for a dunk on day 360 of her goal. Below, Lena smiles after the completion of her jump and dons a ‘Northwest Mermaid’ T-shirt, a gift from a family friend. (Sophie Bonomi / Staff photos