Mesa, Arizona — On an 80-degree morning, a group of world-class swimmers in Speedos and swim caps stood on a pebbly beach east of Phoenix.
On April 25, they competed in the SCAR Swim, a four-day, 40-mile open water race around four lakes along the Salt River in central Arizona: Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. They gathered on the shores of Lake Saguaro to
Kent Nicholas, the organizer of the event, does not allow anyone to participate. This year’s swimmers ranged in their 20s to late 60s and each had a resume attached. The field included men and women who swam across the English Channel, Lake Tahoe, Monterey Bay, Catalina Channel, and around Manhattan.
Divided into three heats, the athletes were tense as the pontoon boats passed signs warning that “the floodway doors may open without notice.” When it happened a year ago, athletes were forced onto a sandbar to avoid being sucked backwards.
Nicholas, 56, used a megaphone to tell everyone to get off the boat and into the 55-degree water. Breathless from the shock of the cold, the swimmers swam to a series of orange buoys behind a concrete dam.
While the world’s major channel associations ban wetsuits and most ban smartwatches, Nicholas allows both. But an ethic of purism runs deep in open water swimming, and there was no neoprene on the SCAR Swim field. Nicolas put one hand on the buoy line and the other in the air, freeing the athletes for a 15.5-mile swim to a dam across the lake.
When they were finished, they returned to Nicholas’ hometown of Mesa to spend the night. We swam 17 miles to Lake Apache in two hours and started at dawn on the third day. The final swim took place the following night, at Lake Roosevelt where he swam 6.2 miles.
For perspective, consider that the most famous open water swim, the English Channel, is 21 miles.
With marathon distance (approximately 40 miles), bone-chilling swims (Apache starting temperature is approximately 53 degrees Fahrenheit), dramatic scenery and road trip breaks, the event is the annual event of the World of Open Water Swimming Association. Awarded as the best event. In 2022.
A gathering of comrades, a snapshot of Arizona that even locals have never seen. His first three lakes feel like rivers of old. Swimmers wind their way through dreary, lime-green waters between towering red rock cliffs nearly 500 feet high, past massive mesas and eroding hills with roots of mesquite and saguaro. The desert was green and blooming with flowers. There were bald eagles and gray herons flying overhead. A family of bighorn sheep had gathered on a rock ledge.
Arizona-born criminal defense attorney Nicholas first imagined the event while training at Lake Saguaro for the 2011 Catalina Strait Crossing. The following year, his seven swimmers participated in the first official SCAR Swim. This year he had 58 swimmers from 16 states and 6 countries. 38 of them were women.
That’s normal. Since America’s Gertrude Edahl became the first successful woman Swimming across the English Channel in 1926erased the existing channel record by almost two hours, and the women remained at the top of the sport.
Marathon swimmer and data analyst Julian Critchlow, who has analyzed every successful crossing of the English Channel since 1875, found that the average woman completed the distance about 11 minutes faster than the average man. . Women are more successful. No one has crossed the Channel more often than Chloe McCardell, recorded from Alison Streeter in 2021.
“When you think about ultra-running, triathlons, or long-distance cycling, men are faster,” says Katherine Breed, a swimmer at the University of California, Berkeley who once held the record for the fastest swim across Lake Tahoe. It’s interesting to be able to move,” he said. . “But I think women have better mental resilience and guts.
Last year, the 30-year-old Breed swam from the Golden Gate Bridge to Northern California’s Half Moon Bay, becoming the first person to overcome monotony and fatigue to complete the 47-mile route.
Last month, she finished second to Michael Rice on the Lake Saguaro leg, but her barrel-shaped chest and powerful arms are partly due to years of butterfly swimming at the University of Florida and Florida State, and partly due to some genetics. suggesting characteristic features. In 1999, his mother Gail swam the English Channel in her 8 hours and 12 minutes, making her one of the fastest records ever.
Rice was introduced to SCAR Swim in 2021 after running into Sarah Thomas, the first swimmer to swim the English Channel four times in a row, at a spring-fed pond favored by swimmers outside Denver. Thomas, who works as a recruiter, keeps an eye on his talent. She talked to him and trained with him. She finished 1st overall in the 2021 competition and 2nd overall when she won the women’s draw.
2022 overall winner Stephen Mnatones, 60, finished third at Saguaro last month, just over 11 minutes ahead of Rice. Mnatones has dedicated his life to this sport. In the 1970s he was a reporter for an international swimming publication in his teens. He won the Open Water Masters Championship twice in the 1990s and was one of the few international swimmers to bring open water swimming to the Olympics in 2008, an effort that began in the 1980s. was
In 2016, the Munatones suffered a heart attack at their Huntington Beach, California home. His teenage son performed CPR until help came. After years of recovery, he started dreaming of open-water swimming again during the pandemic.He had only swum a few thousand yards since his 1994 but enrolled in SCAR last year. . He trained hard, probably harder than ever, and surprised himself and everyone else with a win.
“When you come back from something like me,” said Mnatones. At the end of each day, wow, I feel like I got one more. “
Although the sun was warm, the water in Canyon Lake was brisk, especially for the first mile or so. A few people dropped out, but most of them persevered. They took electrolytes every 30 to 60 minutes to stay hydrated and munched on red vine, black licorice, dates and chocolate when their fuel tanks were low. I smoked energy gels and fruit purees. Or a shot with a drop of maple syrup. The swimmers provided their own bait bags, controlled by the kayakers, paddling on the swimmer’s breath-dominant side, drawing the most efficient line possible.
Open water swimming is based on generosity and reciprocity, so there’s a good chance this year’s kayaker will be next year’s swimmer, and vice versa. Thomas also kayaked instead of swimming this year.
The fastest athlete covered Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake in less than 3 hours each. For Apache, it took about 5 hours. Even the slowest swimmer took him over five hours on the short swim and nine and a half hours on the Apache.
Breed always focuses on form and body position. Mnatones flees. Rice fences his inner turmoil with love and dedicates different parts of the race to those he cares about.
Nicholas finished in this pontoon cruiser, which he called the “finish boat,” with a giant cooler of craft beer and easy-to-drink wines, and a much smaller cooler for sports drinks and water. We welcomed the players on the line. Rice and Breed split the beer and waited for the rest of the beer to drip. Some finishers are skinny and shivering, others are built like tanks, and there are variations in between.
“That’s what I love about this sport,” said Breed. “All body types, all body types are welcome, and we find people with different body types excel.”
Training tips were shared and upcoming events were planned while athletes “rehydrated” and soaked up the sun. No one cheered louder than Rice at the finish. He stood up, clapped, and yelled. 2 down and he needs 2 tough swims.
“I have to root for them,” he said. “They are all great people. This is a difficult event and I hope everyone achieves their goals.”