The Aquatic COVID Counter Punch – 6 Steps to Safe Open Water Swim Races

1 Lucky Luna the start dog and Jay Madigan
Lucky, Luna, the start dog, and J Madigan in front of the gauntlet of signs leading to the start of Lucky's Lake Swim. The signs serve as a constant reminder for all swimmers to keep masks on and social distance.

Lockdown is the word that now brings fear into any swimmer’s heart. Virtually all pools, lakes, beaches, and even the local swimming holes were affected by the 2020 pandemic. Every place to swim except private home pools has been dramatically affected by COVID-19, and this has been a dismal year for swimming addicts. The lockdown has resulted in the loss of thousands of aquatic related jobs, ruined multiple swimming careers, affected our national fitness, and has decimated swim teams. These are the unintended consequences of the lockdown and should not be trivialized. 


During the pandemic, the only bright spot in our sport is that the COVID-19 introduced swimmers to open water swimming who otherwise would not have had exposure. Early in the pandemic, researchers designated open water swimming as one of the safest sporting activities, but ironically instead of capitalizing on this fact and encouraging the movement, many sites that would be ideal for this activity were also closed to the public, and some remain closed. 


Understanding that open water swimming is a safe activity during COVID-19, we should encourage opening up more opportunities and providing guidelines for keeping it healthy. For those looking for a template for creating a safe open water swim during COVID-19 you need to look no further than the historic Lucky’s Lake Swim in Orlando, Florida as an exemplary model. 


Before we get into our safety template, a little back story on the swim or watch the video Lucky’s Lake Swim began in 1989 when the eclectic swimming enthusiast and physician Lucky Meisenheimer started swimming at his home on Lake Cane in Orlando, FL. Lucky started inviting friends to join him in his daily swim, and it turns out Lucky has never met a swimmer that wasn’t his friend, because now after three decades, tens of thousands of swimmers have joined him. Individuals from over 60 different countries have been represented, from special Olympians to Olympic gold medalists. The Central Florida Historical society has proclaimed Lucky’s Lake Swim a historic event, and the World Open Water Swimming Association lists it as one of the top 100 swims in the United States. All first-time swimmers sign the back wall of their home and receive a SWAG bag. Perhaps the best part is, the daily swim is free. 


The swim has spawned many annual charitable races and events over the years. These events include The Golden Mile® (where the winners receive real gold medals with double the gold content of an Olympic gold medal- all proceeds go to the Lake Cane Restoration Society). The Rowdy and Lucky 1.5 K swim (Supporting the Rosen Aquatic Center and Special Olympics). The Night-Ops 5K Frogman swim (Supporting the Navy Seal Foundation) and The Easter Sunday Eat-Pray-Swim (Supporting the Edgewood’s Children’s Ranch). Sadly, COVID-19 shut down all these events for 2020. 


Fortunately, The Lake Cane Restoration Society, a 501c3 charitable organization with the mission of keeping Central Florida lakes swimmable, fishable and loveable, worked closely with Lucky to develop a plan for safely reopening the daily swim. And to be fair, the daily swim never wholly stopped. you would have to incarcerate Lucky to keep him from the water, and a few others that lived on the lake kept the swim alive and uninterrupted while the complete lockdown was in effect. 


Once the State of Florida issued reopening guidelines, Lucky faced the question – how to reopen without giving the virus what it wants, exposure. A proactively devised safe re-entry plan evolved upon the announcement of the lockdown. The primary concern was how to manage the risks of large numbers of swimmers while keeping in line with public health guidelines. The solution required using social media, signage, recruiting volunteers, engaging veteran lake swimmers, and using plain common sense.


The critical elements of the safe reopening of Lucky’s Lake Swim were these:


  1.  To limit the bottlenecks of people standing or walking closely, Lucky created two start points on two adjacent properties. The swim has no more than ten (10) swimmers at any start point. The separation was in effect during the government restriction of groups to no more than ten on a property. Multiple start times were made available, and swimmers signed up for these online the night before.
1 Lucky Luna the start dog and Jay Madigan

Lucky, Luna, the start dog, and J Madigan in front of the gauntlet of signs leading to the start of Lucky’s Lake Swim. The signs serve as a constant reminder for all swimmers to keep masks on and social distance.

2.  There are no mass starts, only trickle starts.

2 Covid 19 Luckys Lake Swim Custom masks

COVID-19 resulted in the swim developing a custom mask. All proceeds from the masks go to the Lake Cane Restoration Society.

3. All swimmers wear masks until they are ready to begin their swim.

3 Pre Covid we used mass starts now we use tricke starts

Pre-COVID-19 photo, mass starts were the norm. Now trickle starts are only used.

4. The swim created a no contact experience with no on-site sign-ins, no transactions, no stamps, no wristbands, no toilets, no showers. Lucky encourages swimmers to focus on getting in the water, swimming and getting out.

4 Volunteers spread out buoys before the swim

Volunteers spread out swim buoys prior to the swim, eliminating groups congregating at the swim shack where they are stored—sanitation of the buoys done after the swim by volunteers.

5. The tradition of providing inflatable swimming buoys continued. Wearing masks and gloves, volunteers sanitized these buoys before and after use.

5 Pre Covid the swim hosted several charity events

Lucky’s Lake Swim before COVID-19 hosted several charity swims each year. All were canceled in 2020. Lucky is with True Sweeter the 2019 gold medalist for the Golden Mile®, and yes, that’s a real gold medal.

6. Social distancing is emphasized. Volunteers remind swimmers not to congregate.

6 Swimmers keep there masks on even while signing the wall of fame

Swimmers wear masks at all times, even while signing the wall of fame.

 The result is thousands of swims happened during COVID-19 at Lucky’s Lake Swim with no infections traced back to the swim. The real competition in open water swimming? The virus. Don’t let it win by giving it what it wants – exposure. Of course, when lives are at stake, a sporting activity rightfully takes a back seat. If, however, the organizers of your favorite open water swim are on the fence about reopening, don’t listen to the “Do-nothings.” Their inertia outweighs their inspiration. When the consensus of “doing nothing” is the default answer to the opportunity to reopen open water swimming tell your friends you can swim safely. 


Hopefully, with the vaccine coming available, the push to reopen pools and public open water sites will be successful, but keep in mind that the virus allowed the power of a few over the masses, and power is not easily relinquished. You may still have a battle on your hands, but remember, you are always welcome at Lucky’s Lake Swim.


Notes about the author: Jay Madigan is the Executive Director of the Lake Cane Restoration Society.

The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with Lucky’s Lake Swim and The Lake Cane Restoration Society. For press releases and advertising inquiries please contact

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Steve Willis
2 years ago

Great article. Some of my fondest memories were swimming Lucky’s Lake Swim. I am so happy to hear the plague has not stopped the swim. Stay well my friends.

Seth Baetzold
2 years ago

I am the one in the mask signing the wall! Great time and I even scored an age group record!

I had a blast swimming here. I traveled from Iowa to Florida for this.

2 years ago

Lucky’s Lake Swim is the highlight of any other exercise is do. The close knit community and camaraderie is one of a kind. Everyone worked together to make the swim manageable and safe.
I really enjoyed the article and it covered all the highlights of Lucky’s Lake Swim and how we dealt with COVID.

Michael Shepardson
2 years ago

Great article that captures the essence of Lucky’s Lake Swim-nice job Jay. I started swimming with Lucky on our Masters team in ‘87 and we swam against each other in college (well not directly because I was a wimpy sprinter and he, a distance nut). What the article doesn’t mention (it would be off-topic so I understand why) is Lucky’s extraordinary generosity to his causes. He is a tireless supporter of so many things in Central Florida and you cannot help but feel happier after having spent time around him.

If you are ever in the Orlando area, definitely plan to do a lake swim at Lucky’s. It’s fun and you will be made to feel right at home.