PHOENIX, Arizona, August 26. SIX teenagers with an estimated 600 miles of open water racing experience between them successfully crossed the famed Catalina Channel in Pacific Ocean on August 13, becoming the youngest mixed-gender relay to complete the 20-mile swim in southern California.
Benjamin Bleichwehl (15 years old), Jacee Frivaldo (14 years old), Seth Mandel (14), Spencer McVeigh (15), Jacob Miller (15) and Lael Proffit (15) rotated shifts of one-hour swims from Catalina Island to the California shore, reaching land in nine hours, 34 minutes and 53 seconds, about two hours shy of the overall mixed-gender record of 7:30:36 by much-older swimmers. The Catalina Channel Swimming Federation doesn’t list record times for relays based on age and forbids swimmers under 14 years old from making the swim, either solo or in relays.
Some of the six swimmers on the Catalina Channel Children’s Crusade have braved some of the toughest waters since they were as young as 5 years old. Frivaldo has swum the 1.5 chilly miles from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore every year since she was 8, as well as the popular La Jolla Pier to Cove swim since 2009. A regular pool swimmer as well, she says she finds the expanse of the open water less restrictive and a little bit liberating.
“I love that you’re not confined to wall to wall, that you’re free,” said Frivaldo, who represents Swim Neptune when she races in the pool.
Frivaldo had wanted to swim across the Catalina Channel since her first Alcatraz-to-San Francisco swim, but needed to grow mentally — and wait until she reached the federation’s age-limit requirements — before she could tackle the swim. She gathered teammates and friends together for the attempt, and did training swims in the dark to get used to swimming in pitch-black conditions. Frivaldo was the first swimmer in the water, and with each of the six swimmers completing one-hour shifts, she had to swim twice, as did Miller and McVeigh.
“The nervous part was having jellyfish around me, but after a while they got annoying.” Frivaldo said, adding that they were small enough to not cause much physical pain when they stung her. “You just had to get your head in the game and not get psyched out about things swimming around you.”
Naturally, there is a plan for another big open water swim in this team’s future. Frivaldo said the six might get together for a 28.5-mile relay swim around New York City’s Manhattan Island. The website for that event says swimmers must be 19 years or older to participate, but would grant exceptions “based on swimming experience.”
Frivaldo wants to parlay her lifelong love of open water swimming to other young people, through swims such as the one she did in the Catalina Channel as well as her blog, Jacee for Kids, in which she hopes her exploits in some of the most popular waterways in the world will grow the sport.
“This is a sport I want to do all my life,” she said.