My passion for open water and marathon swimming has been a gradual process; one that I would never have imagined when I started more than 20 years ago.
“End-Wet (North Dakota) 2012
photo by MacKenzee Nugent
Although I returned to swimming 20+ years ago, it has always been a part of my life. I was born with hip dysplasia which was first noticed at a routine check-up soon after I was born. Subsequently, my father took me to a referral appointment with an Orthopedic Specialist. At the doctor’s direction, my father admitted me into Children’s Hospital and sadly went home alone that evening because parents were not encouraged to stay with their children in those days. I was immediately placed in a half body cast. I had multiple surgeries as a young child; one to correct the angle of the hip, and one to try and correct the difference in leg length as a result of the first surgery.
I have never been able to participate in impact sports because of the one inch leg difference, which also causes me to limp (without my corrected shoes). I vividly remember one of my last appointments with my pediatric orthopedic surgeon when I was 18 years old. He told me two things: 1) “Watch your weight” and 2) “You will probably need hip replacement by the time you are 40”. Like most teenagers, I thought I was invincible at that age, but his words have always stayed with me over the years. Swimming has helped keep me in shape and maintain my weight. As for hip replacement, that has not happened yet and maybe never will. I do tire easily from walking a lot, but if you put me in the water, I could swim for miles.
I saw my doctor about 8 years ago and, as always, he wanted to observe my walking. Then he was curious as to how my hip looked after all these years. He was very pleased with my hip x-ray and said everything looked great. I credit swimming 100% to my overall health. Swimming is a low impact sport and thus makes it a perfect sport for me and others with similar joint issues. There are many swimmers over the age of 40 because swimming is very easy on the joints. Unlike other endurance sports, specifically including running and cycling, wherein athletes are subjected to rigorous pounding of their joints, swimmers can continue to get better as they age.
I have always been exposed to the water. Our family joined a private club when I was very young. I quickly graduated from the baby pool to the intermediate pool, and then hit the “big” pool. By 8th grade, I joined the swim club in our city and, a year later, the girl’s high school swimming team. I swam the same events for every meet; the 50 backstroke in the medley relay, the 100 yard backstroke, and the 100 yard butterfly. I didn’t know about any other events, since the coach put you where he needed you. I thought my friend, Martina, who swam the 500 freestyle was crazy! How boring was that to swim 20 lengths of the pool in a race. In college, schoolwork took priority, but I recognized that I loved to train and I stayed active by training on my own in the pool.
In 1994, I needed an activity to keep me busy and decided to dive back into the pool. It was not easy at first. The first day, I swam 200 yards and thought, “Well this is boring, what did I get myself into?” I slowly started to increase my yardage and soon was feeling like I never left the pool. A swim friend told me about United States Masters Swimming (USMS) and that piqued my curiosity.
“Swim for Freedom (Wisconsin)”
Photo by Mike Nugent
I have been a member of USMS since 1995. The first six months of swim meets, I swam the 100 yard butterfly and 100 yard backstroke because that was all I knew. Then I thought, “Hey, no one is limiting me to only these events!” So I tried the 200 freestyle and realized that it was not too bad. I continued to push myself by increasing my distances, first the 500 (yard), next the 1000, and then the 1650. The more distance I would swim, the more in the “groove” I felt.
My first open water swim was in Lake Amy Belle (Wisconsin) in 1996. It was a one-mile swim and I was pregnant at the time. That is when I officially fell in love with open water events. During the next few years, I had three children (1996, 1999 and 2002) and continued to swim throughout all of my pregnancies. When I was four days overdue with my second child, I swam two miles, including flip turns, before the contractions started. My son, Kyler, was born 2 hours later. I quickly bounced back from all three pregnancies; my doctors and I both believe that swimming should be credited for my quick recoveries.
“Three River Marathon Swim, 30k (Pennsylvania) 2014”
Photo by Evan Sanders
I mainly swam one to three miles and did not know anything about marathon swimming. In 2006, I decided to try a longer swim, 5-miles in Minnetonka, MN. I finished 27th out of 99 swimmers with a time of 2:17:51 – not too bad for my first long swim. In 2009, I swam 8+ miles in Lake Geneva for an event called, “Swim for Freedom.” I really cranked up the distance in 2011 by swimming the 25K (15.5 miles) in Noblesville, IN. This was almost double my previous record distance. That was a tough swim and I was very sore afterwards. But, I finished even though their 10 hour limit was reduced to 8 hours because of storms. I finished 26th of the 27 who were able to squeeze in the time limit. The other 39 swimmers did not finish in time or were a DNF (did not finish).
By the end of 2011, a friend convinced me to compete in a 27-mile river swim in the Red River in North Dakota. This was a huge undertaking for me, so in preparation, I spoke with a marathon swimmer and a marathon runner for advice. The advice was: 1) spend more time in the pool training, 2) straighten out my nutrition needs, and 3) peak at the right times prior to the event. Knowing there was a river current was helpful, and I felt very good throughout the swim. The Red River was a success! I finished 3rd place of the 12 swimmers, coming in at 9 hours and 23 minutes (first was 9:11 and then 9:15). I felt great after the swim, just a little sore as expected, but good enough to find a bar where we could all enjoy a nice cold beer and share our experiences. I found my passion for marathon swimming. I enjoy the swims because I learned how to prepare for them.
Since 2011, I have swam in various states to compete: 10-mile swim in the Tennessee River Gorge (2012), 12.5 mile swim around Key West (2013), a relay swim for “Swim Across America” across Lake Michigan (from Chicago to Michiana, Michigan) (2013), SCAR Challenge in Arizona (2014) – completed 3 of 4 lake swims for 30 miles in 4 days, 10-mile USMS Championship Swim in Minnetonka, Minnesota (2014), one of three swimmers to test the 18+ mile course for the Three River Marathon Swim in Pittsburgh (2014), 10K swim in Cayman Islands (2015) and 6-swimmer relay swim around Catalina Island and Santa Barbara Island for 100 miles in 51:55.07 (2015).
“Number of Miles Swum Since 1995”
I am always looking for a new challenge, and the world has no shortage of lakes, oceans, rivers, bays and channels to swim.
“Screaming Catalina Relay (California) 2015”
“Swimming Around Santa Barbara Island”
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