HUDSON RIVER, New York. January 1. OF the hundreds of new open water swimming events that were started during 2011, most have established a firm course for a successful future. In New York, the new 7-day, 7-stage 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim last July was one such unique event – just quite a bit longer and more challenging.
Dr. Rondi Davis and Dave Barra were the only swimmers to start all seven stages. They explained about their dream swim come true. "From the peaceful Catskills to the dramatic Narrows in New York Harbor, 19 swimmers covered 120 miles of the Hudson River's great stream from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. For seven straight days, each day's marathon swim began just north of one bridge and ended on the south side of the next, covering distances ranging between 13.2 and 19.8 miles. The swims were timed to benefit from the estuary's ebb tide."
Dave of High Falls, New York nearly made the entire 120 miles, coming within 0.2 miles of the 19.8-mile leg when he ran smack into a 1.5-knot flood tide. Just short of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Barra had been swimming for 9 hours and 30 minutes before he admitted that "some days the river wins."
Davies, the record-setting swimmer around Manhattan Island, was the class of the field with the fastest legs in five of the seven downstream stages. Completing a speedy 110 miles of the 120-mile stage swim, but she had to pull out of two stages due to shoulder pain.
Up to five swimmers joined Barra and Davies for the first five stages, including John Humenik of New York who won the two stages (#4 and #5) where Davies had to prematurely retire. Humenik overcame an hour-long flood tide when he won the 19.8-mile Stage 5 swim that included water unnaturally heated by discharge from the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
Triple Crown swimmer Tobey Anne Saracino of Port Chester, New York was the only other finisher of Stage 5. In an 11-day period that began the night before, the courageous Saracino spent the previous night in the hospital receiving six stitches to her lip, then completed the 9 hour 52 minute Stage 5 the morning after. She then packed and flew to California to complete the Catalina Channel to become the 53rd individual to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
Lisa Neidrauer of Toronto, Leticia Flores Hernandez of Mexico City and Janet Harris of New York completed two stages. Gilles Chalendon, Kimberley Plewa, Rebecca Wassner, Marilee Kiernen, Cara Mcateer, Terry Laughlin, Martin Turkey and John Reagan each completed one stage.
Like its shorter Texas cousin, the Highland Lakes Challenge in Austin, 8 Bridges was unforgiving, breaking new marathon swimming ground with its 120-mile course, demanding that its participants step up each day without recovery.
Evan Morrison described the 120-mile challenge as "a swim for the ages, something new and epic and beautiful."
Janet Harris agreed, "It was incredibly inspiring and confidence-boosting to be able to complete a couple of stage swims, and to see Rondi Davies and Dave Barra find the strength and resilience to keep going day after day."
The academically-minded Davies, a Ph.D. geologist by profession, found inspiration in the Hudson River's romantic, natural beauty. "Each day was new and different and just as amazing as the last. To me studying the tidal currents and working out how to find and benefit from the best currents is like solving a fascinating puzzle."
In a unique setting, Barra conducted a mid-swim press conference in the middle of the Hudson, calling media attention on the event's goal: the Hudson River Valley's water quality issues. The reporters asked questions on Riverkeeper's water quality testing program boat, conducted in the dramatic chasm created by the Storm King and Break Neck Mountains with Bannerman's Castle in the background.
Davies explains about the final 18.6-mile, "Stage 7 finished in one of the world's busiest shipping channels under the mile-wide Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge where the New York Harbor meets the Atlantic Ocean. Escort Pilot Greg Porteus of Launch 5 and a small fleet of kayakers and volunteers provided crucial swim support. They made it a safe and successful event for all."
Barra added, "The 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim required months of planning and the dedication of so many people to provide the swimmers with safe passage over a week. We all walk away from this with an enormous sense of accomplishment and relief that everything went so well. Already the buzz of next year's 8 Bridges has started. What a wonderful community to be a part of!"
Stage 1, 18.3 miles from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge)
1. Rondi Davis, 5:25, New York, NY
2. Lisa Neidrauer, 5:39, Toronto, Canada
3. Dave Barra, 5:44, High Falls, NY
4. Janet Harris, 5:50, New York, NY
5. Gilles Chalendon, 6:05, New York, NY
DNF: Leonard Jansen, 6:55, Elizabethtown, PA
DNF: Bill Dailey, 1:50, Galveston, TX
Stage 2, 19.8 miles from the Kingston Rhinecliff Bridge to the Mid-Hudson Bridge
Stage 3, 13.2 miles from the Mid-Hudson Bridge to the Newburgh Beacon Bridge
1. Rondi Davis, 4:24:38, New York, NY
2. Rebecca Wassner, 4:29:59, New Paltz, NY
3. Marilee Kiernen, 4:42:26, Bronxville, NY
4. Dave Barra, 4:45:00, High Falls, NY
5. Kimberly Plewa, 5:02:32, Rahway, NJ
6. Leticia Flores, 5:05:37, Mexico City, Mexico
7. Cara Mcateer, 5:11:45, Brooklyn, NY
7. Terry Laughlin, 5:11:45, New Paltz, NY
Stage 4, 15.2 miles from the Newburgh Beacon Bridge to the Bear Mountain Bridge
1. Rondi Davis, 5:28:45, New York, NY
1. John Humenik, 5:28:45, New York, NY
3. Janet Harris, 5:35, New York, NY
4. Lisa Neidrauer, 5:35, Toronto, Canada
5. Dave Barra, 5:41:06, High Falls, NY
6. Leticia Flores, 6:26:25, Mexico City, Mexico
Stage 5, 19.8 miles from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Tappan Zee Bridge
1. John Humenik, 8:12, New York, NY
2. Tobey Anne Saracino, 9:52, Port Chester, NY
DNF: Dave Barra, elapsed time 9:30, High Falls, NY
DNF: Eileen Burke, elapsed time 7:30, New York, NY
DNF: Mo Siegel, elapsed time 6:50, Piermont, NY
DNF: Rondi Davis, elapsed time 4:10, New York, NY
Stage 6, 15.7 miles from the Tappan Zee Bridge to the George Washington Bridge
Stage 7, 18.6 miles from the George Washington Bridge to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Course map and video clips of the different stages are here..
Courtesy of Open Water Source