Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (2023)

Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (1)

Cold temperatures, stunning scenery and road trip interludes make SCAR Swim a fan favorite in the niche sport of open water swimming.

Credit...Caitlin O'Hara for The New York Times


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Table, Arizona. — On an 80-degree morning, a group of world-class swimmers stood in trunks and caps on a shingle beach east of Phoenix.

They met on the shores of Saguaro Lake on April 25 for the SCAR Swim, a four-day, 40-mile open-water race through four lakes along the Salt River in central Arizona: Saguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt.

Event organizer Kent Nicholas isn't letting anyone in. This year's swimmers range in age from their 20s to their 60s and all bring resumes. The field includes men and women who have successfully swum the English Channel, Lake Tahoe, Monterey Bay, Catalina Channel and around Manhattan.

Swimmers were nervous as they split into groups of three and passed a warning sign on the pontoon: "The dump gate may open without warning." When this happened a year ago, the athletes were forced to stand on the sand to prevent it from being washed away. This year the conditions are perfect.

(Video) [Latest]An Unexpected Open Water Challenge: 40 Miles Across Arizona

Nicholas, 56, ordered everyone over a loudspeaker to disembark and enter the 55-degree water. Competitors, panting from the cold, swam toward a row of orange buoys in the shadow of the concrete barrier.

While the world's major channel associations ban suits and most smartwatches, Nicholas allows both. But there's a deep-rooted cleansing ethic in open sea swimming, and there's no neoprene in SCAR pools. With one hand on the buoy line and the other in the air, Nicholas let the swimmers swim 9.5 miles to a barrier. On the other side of the lake.


Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (2)


When they finish, they return to Nikolas' hometown of Mesa, where they spend the night. On Day 2, swimmers drove an hour to Canyon Lake for a 9-mile swim, then immediately drove 2 hours through ghost towns and copper mines to Apache Lake for a 17-mile sunrise swim on Day 3. The swim finale was the second night, a 6.2 mile swim across Roosevelt Lake.

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For perspective, consider that the English Channel, the most famous open sea swim, is 21 miles long.

With its marathon distance (about 40 miles), hair-raising swims (the Apache starts at about 53 degrees Fahrenheit), dramatic scenery and intervening road trips, the event has been hailed as the World Association's annual event. dizziness. 2022.

It's a gathering of like-minded people and a snapshot of Arizona that even locals may not have seen. The first three lakes still feel like the rivers they once were. Swimmers wade through lazy lime-green waters entwined between towering red cliffs some 500 feet high, past massive middens and eroded hills overgrown with mesquite and cactus roots. The desert is green and the flowers are blooming. Turkey vultures and blue herons soar overhead. A family of bighorn sheep gathers on a rock ledge.

Arizona-born criminal defense attorney Nicholas first envisioned the event in 2011 while training at Saguaro Lake for his own Catalina Channel crossing. The following year, seven swimmers joined him in the first official SCAR swim. This year 58 swimmers from 16 states and 6 countries participated. Thirty-eight of them were women.

Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (3)Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (4)Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (5)Unexpected open water challenge: 40 miles across Arizona (6)

This is not abnormal. Since the American Gertrude Ederle became the firstHe swam across the English Channel in 1926, obliterating the existing Channel record by nearly two hours, women remain at the top of the sport.

Julian Critchlow, a marathon swimmer and data analyst who has analyzed every successful Channel crossing since 1875, said the runners-up were on average about 11 minutes faster than the average person. Women also had a higher success rate. No one has crossed the English Channel more often than Chloe McArdle, a record she took from Alison Street in 2021.

"It's interesting because if you think about ultramarathons, triathlons or long-distance bike rides, men run faster," said Catherine Breed, who swam at UC Berkeley and held the record for fastest female swimmer. In Lake Tahoe... “But I think women have more mental toughness and tenacity. We let the hard things pass and move on.

Last year, Breed, 30, became the first person to swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Half Moon Bay in Northern California, overcoming monotony and fatigue to complete the 27-mile course.

Last month, she was runner-up at the Saguaro Lake sectional behind Michael Rice, whose chest and strong arms hinted at his years of butterfly experience at the University of Florida and Florida State, as well as some genetics. In 1999, his mother Gail set one of the fastest times ever when she swam the English Channel in 8 hours 12 minutes.


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Rice was introduced to SCAR Swim in 2021 after meeting Sarah Thomas, the first swimmer to cross the English Channel.four times in a row, in a spring-fed pond popular with swimmers in suburban Denver. Thomas is a recruiter with an eye for talent. He convinces him and trains with him. In the 2021 competition he won the overall title, while she won the women's draw and finished second.

2022 overall champion Steven Munatones, 60, finished third at Cactus last month, just over 11 minutes behind Rice. The Munatones have dedicated their lives to sports. In the 1970s he was a teenage reporter for an international swimming publication. In the 1990s, he won two US Open Water Masters National Championships and was part of the small international team that helped lead open water swimming to the 2008 Olympics, an effort that has continued since the 1980s.

In 2016, Munatones suffered a heart attack at his home in Huntington Beach, California. His teenage son performed CPR on him. until help arrives. After years of recovery, she started dreaming of swimming in open water again during the pandemic. He has been swimming thousands of meters since 1994, but signed up for SCAR last year. He trained hard, perhaps harder than ever, and surprised himself and everyone else with victories.

"When you recover from what I've done," Munatones said, "everything is a plus. At the end of every day, I'm like, Wow, I've got another one."

Despite the heat from the sun, the water in Canyon Lake was cool, especially for the first mile or so. Some retreated, but most persisted. They take sips of electrolytes every 30 to 60 minutes to stay hydrated, and when their fuel tanks run out, they eat red grapes, black licorice, dates or chocolate, energy gels or purees, or maple syrup. Swimmers are provided with their own food bags, which are managed by their kayakers, who paddle to the dominant side of the breathing swimmer and paddle the most efficient line.



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This year's kayaker is likely to be next year's swimmer and vice versa, because open water swimming is all about generosity and reciprocity. Even Thomas chose kayaking instead of swimming this year.

The fastest runners crossed Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake in less than three hours, respectively. For Apache, it takes about five hours. The slowest swimmer took just over five hours to complete the shortest swim, while Apache took nine and a half hours.

Breed maintains his focus on body shape and position. The Munatones make them run around. Rhys used love to control her inner turmoil, dedicating various parts of her clan to those she cared about.

Nicholas greets his swimmers at the finish line in what he calls his "fins boat," a pontoon cruiser equipped with a giant craft beer and wine cooler for drinks and a much smaller sports drink and water cooler. Rice and Breed opens the beers and waits for the rest of the field to arrive. Some terminators are flimsy and rickety, while others are built like tanks, with many variations between them.

"That's why I love this sport," Breed said. "All shapes, all shapes, are welcome, and you'll see people of all sizes excel at it."

As the athletes "hydrated" and sunbathed, they shared training tips and mapped out future activities. In the end, no one cheered more than Rice. He stood up, clapped his hands and shouted. Two down, two grueling dives to go.

“I have to root them out,” he said. "They're all great people, it's a tough competition and I hope they all achieve their goals."



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