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An Open Water Tour of New York: From Coney Island to Lake Placid

Two great open water events in the Northeast

Laura Jones | December 31, 2008

 USMS 3-6 Mile Open Water Championship (5 km)
Atlantic Ocean, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It izz hen onnah!”

The thick New York accent didn’t keep me from understanding the grinning kayaker in aviator sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. I was fighting the current and about 500 yards from the finish of the 5K Open Water National Championship at Coney Island, hosted by the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers. This kayaker—I never got his name—was yelling at the top of his lungs over and over: “Swim to the red boat, then you’ll see the white buoy. You’re almost there!” I popped up to make sure I understood and then thanked him profusely for his efforts. (I’m rarely in a race for anything in open water races, so I can talk to the kayakers. Mostly I ask if I am last.)

Another nearby swimmer had popped up for the same reason and she added her thanks. His response, that it was an honor to be there for us, still brings tears to my eyes. For goodness sake, the other swimmer (Susan Kirk, 50, of Berkeley Aquatic Masters) and I finished 74th (her) and 75th (me) out of 120. We’re not really bringing honor to anyone, other than ourselves. But that kayaker not only helped us spot the finish in the waves, he made us feel special.

Come to think of it, feeling special was the theme of whole race, which had the best safety and nicest water support I have ever experienced. It was truly an honor for all of us to be able to experience such a well-run and fun swim. Even the jellyfish we swam through were the friendly, non-stinging kind. The CIBBOWS crew and volunteers clearly worked hard to put on a professional race that at the same time had a down-home feel to it. Did I mention SWAG? Check out the great bag all the 5K swimmers got in the photo of me. We also got a T-shirt and lots of other goodies. And there was beer after the race. At 9 a.m.)

While my husband Rob Jones, 45, also an unattached member of the Virginia LMSC, was waiting and waiting and waiting for me to finish (he was fourth overall, and did I mention I was 75th?), he chatted with our new friend Filippo Porco. Porco, 34 and a member of North Carolina Masters, made an excellent companion for our subsequent free tour of the Coney Island Aquarium. (Porco also extended an invitation to swim with his team the next time we are in Durham visiting my family.) At the buffet afterwards, we talked with Massachusetts native and RCP Tiburon Milers member Eric Nilsson, the 24-year-old overall winner who was taking a break from the pro circuit. I hadn’t been so social in years.

The best part was that ocean swimming wasn’t over when we crossed this finish line. Nope, at Coney Island, we got two swims for the price of one. Before we headed up north, I emailed Patricia Sener, 47, who was profiled in the Out in the Open column of SWIMMER last year, just to tell her we were looking forward to the race. (Sener swims for Metro Masters but organizes CIBBOWS swims and races.) She promptly invited us to join her and other CIBBOWS swimmers for their regular Sunday swim the day after the race. Despite being a little sore, that swim was almost as much fun as the race. On the beach beforehand we met Team New York Aquatics member Charles Ludeke, a 23-year-old pool swimmer preparing for an open water race the next week, and Brad (didn’t catch his last name), who had just completed the Catalina Channel, and Capri Djatiasmoro, 50, swimmer and photographer for CIBBOWS and a member of Metro Masters Swim Club and CIBBOWS. We also learned that the race director, Cristian Vergara, 53, was heading off to swim across the Bering Straits the next day. (He didn’t get a chance to do the swim due to the weather being so treacherous the boat couldn’t get to the starting island, but he says he learned a lot for the next attempt.) All were such amazing and low-key people.

It was such a treat to be able to go out and swim again in the open water. We knew we would have that opportunity in Lake Placid, but to get it in Coney Island was beyond great. And we got to follow it up with a game of Whack-A-Mole and a Nathan’s hot dog.

USMS 2-Mile Cable Championship
Mirror Lake, Lake Placid, N.Y.

We got to the starting line a week later for the USMS 2-Mile Cable Championship sunburned and exhausted from a week of vacation that was filled with swimming and paddling around Mirror Lake.

The cable swim was organized by David Dammerman of Adirondack Masters. He was a one man wizard. He must have had help from many volunteers, but he took the race photos, handed out awards, lined up the swimmers and started us, and kept us well informed prior to the race about where to stay, how to get to the swim, what the water and air temperatures would be. For the second time in a week, we felt well taken care of for our measly entry fee.

The actual race was divided into two heats. So I got to watch Rob and our friend and fellow Masters swimmer Shirley Loftus-Charley while chatting with Shirley’s husband Doug. They in turn got to watch me, although I am not sure how exciting that was. The air and water were so clear and the course was designed in such a way that it was easy to see swimmers coming in for turns and navigating around other swimmers. It was a bit of an open water clinic standing on the beach.

Swimming, on the other hand, was for me the same old thing: go as hard as you can as long as you can. Only this time, for the first time, I had to sprint at the end, which was both fun and horrible. (The photo is of me and the “woman who made me sprint” as she will forever be known, Susan Martonosi, 33, from Southern Pacific LMSC. We had a blast afterwards complaining about the indignity of sprinting at the end of a 2-mile race.)

After the swim, Rob was wearing his Rob Aquatics shirt (from Rob Dumouchel’s fantastic web site) and it sparked conversation with Jeff Erwin, 47, a member of Sawtooth Masters in Idaho, who happened to set a new national record in his age group at Lake Placid. Erwin has talked us into considering the Cascade Lake Swim series in Elk Lake, Oregon for next year.

If I had to sum the week up in a sentence, it would be this one: Two UNAT Masters swimmers with vastly different abilities find incredible camaraderie and challenge in the close knit world of open water swimming despite being hundreds of miles away from home. And one of them got a couple of medals.

Consider an open water championship next year. Chances are, someone will be wearing a t-shirt from a swim you’ve done or considered. It is a small and very friendly world outside of the pool. No one cares about finishing time or place; we’d rather talk about the waves or the current or the jellyfish or the cheering kayakers or the great food.

We got home with lots of new Facebook friends and more plans for northeast swimming next year. You can keep your spa visits and antiques shopping. This was the best vacation ever.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Laura Jones

Laura S. Jones, a lawyer by training, has written about sports, health, and science for a variety of publications since 2001. She's also the author of a short story collection, "Breaking and Entering," published in 2011. Jones is an avid, although not speedy, open water swimmer and particularly enjoys 5K and 10K ocean swims with her much faster husband, Rob. She'll occasionally humble herself with a 400IM or 500 free in a pool meet, and a triathlon or two.

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