Soggy Sandwiches on the Hudson: Six Hours of the Ultimate Swim
Posted online: Wednesday, 09 August 1995
|Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to swim the entire circumference of Manhattan Island? On Sunday, August 13, more than 20 top swimmers from as far as Mexico, England and Nebraska are going to find out. |
Swimmers in the 14th annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS) will begin at 9 am at Battery Park, proceed up the East River with the incoming Tide, cross the Harlem River, then attempt the home stretch down the Hudson.
"Attempt" is the fitting word here, as every year there are people who do not complete the marathon.
According to Glenn Hintze, head of public relations for MIMS, the event is no less than arduous than the grueling English Channel swim. The circumference of Manhattan is 28.5 miles and the record to beat is five hours, 45 minutes and 20 seconds, set this summer on July 14 by an Australian woman named Shelley Taylor-Smith.
The July 14 swim, called the "Race for the Record," was held as an "appetizer swim" for the August 13 marathon. The swimmers dove into the water at 2:40 am because tides at that time were more favorable toward beating the record. Very Selective Group
According to Hintze, this is also known as the swimmer’s version to the NYC Marathon. But unlike the NYC marathon, where thousands of athletes and non-athletes alike line up at the starting point every year to participate, the MIMS is very selective.
"There’s a really thorough screening process," said Hintze. "All of the swimmers have trained by swimming in three 10 mile races." Prospective marathon participants must submit an application that is reviewed by the MIMS Foundation, which is composed of 100 volunteers. Other co-sponsors are Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., the Council on the Environment for New York City and the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
Although 20 is a relatively small number of participants considering the prestige of the event, Hintze says that the MIMS does not wish for the number to increase too much.
"We’d like to keep it small and restricted to people who’ve had the experience, "said Hintze.
However, two time marathon swimmer Carolyn Jaenisch hardly characterizes the swimmers as elite. "They’re just Joe Shmoes like myself," said Jaenisch.
Jaenisch says that none of the participants are professional swimmers and all of them have outside jobs. Jaenisch is a 36-year old fitness trainer and student. And Morty Berger, who is a two time marathon swimmer and executive director of the MIMS Foundation, is a financial consultant.
Clean Waters, Strong Currents
According to MIMS, the Hudson River has a false reputation as a polluted river.
"With all the efforts to clean up the river they’ve really done a great job," said Jaenisch.
Hintze agreed. "The waters around New York City are cleaner than they’ve been in years," said Hintze. "We have environmental groups who are active with us to promote clean water."
Hintze did admit, however, that the waters were dirtier 10 years ago than they are now. One woman who did the swim in 1984 and again last year said, "there was a vast improvement," according to Hintze.
Swimmers must negotiate not only strong currents but the occasional errant barge or cruise ship. The Discovery Channel successfully captured this danger in a feature that it has run which shows a swimmer maneuvering her way around a cruise ship that was backing out of a pier.
Currents, which can be vastly different on each day of the event from year to year, have a tremendous impact on the finishing time of the first swimmer, says Hintze. Last year’s first place winner, Susie Maroney of Sydney, Australia, had a finishing time of seven hours, eight minutes and ten seconds, almost an hour and a half longer than the Current record. Given the predicted tides for the upcoming swim,
Hintze expects the winning time to be a little over six hours.
Safety Is Paramount
A boat accompanies the swimmers during the marathon, staffed by race officials and other supporters. Additionally, there is one boat staffed by doctors and paramedics that circulates among all of the swimmers. "Safety is paramount," says Hintze.
Although Berger said that when he was a participant, he and the boat crew were not entirely serious throughout the swim.
"We threw food at each other and they would sing and dance on the boat," said Berger. "Then I’d stop and float on my back and eat the food they threw at me. They made the food very soft."
- The Westsider