This year’s Portland Bridge Swim took place on Sunday, July 7. We were proud to host the USMS National Championships for the second year, welcoming 81 solo swimmers and 19 relay teams from 17 states. Of those, 33 solo swimmers and another 16 relay swimmers were Oregon Masters swimmers. We love our visitors, but are especially proud of our local swimmers! Full results can be found here:
The race was supported by USMS and its sponsors, as well as Swim Trek and Alder Creek Kayak. OMS board member Susie Young lets us put our radio repeater on her back deck every year, and this year the Boathouse Apartments agreed to let us put our second repeater on their roof.
It takes an army of volunteers to make this race happen, and we are fortunate to have a crew of dedicated workers who come out year after year. An 11-mile race requires groups of volunteers that are unusual for Masters events. These include Rob Steffeck’s crew of power boaters and safety officials to oversee the course, as well as race officials who enforce rules from kayaks out among the swimmers. Ben Karlin managed all those race officials, joining Safety Director Tim Waud on the command boat to keep a watchful eye on things. We are lucky to have good relationships with kayakers in the area, and they come out to escort our swimmers from out of town. This year, because it was a National Championship, we had an unusually high number of requests for escorts. Escort Coordinator Merri Compton managed to find volunteer escorts for 25 swimmers, as well as course volunteers. We may well have recruited every kayaker in the city.
Race weekend started with a pre-race pasta feed in the beautiful event space at Jacobsen Salt. The dinner allows local and out-of-town swimmers to get together and commiserate before the big day. It gives us a chance to welcome them all and share our wonderful swimming community. Safety Director Tim Waud emcee’d, greeting everyone and asking everyone to introduce themselves and ask questions. We loved getting to meet everyone and hope more swimmers and OMS members will join in the party in future years.
Race day starts ungodly early for everyone. With a 7:30 start time, volunteers and swimmers are at the start site before the sun is. Julie Andrade’s crack team of registration volunteers had everybody signing in and getting situated, while rental kayaks were picked up and swimmers’ pre-race jitters were jittered. The pre-race briefing was actually shorter this year, staying well away from last year’s record-setting 24 hours and 18 minute talk time (sarcasm intended). On a very sad and serious note, race organizers held a moment of silence in honor of swimmer #23, Charles van der Horst, who was lost during the 8 Bridges Hudson River race last month. He was registered to swim the Portland Bridge Swim and we all felt his absence.
The first wave left the Sellwood Bridge at 7:25 AM, heading off into beautiful glassy water under overcast skies. It was gloomy, but great conditions for the swimmers. The same can’t totally be said for the water temperature, which had flirted with 70 degrees earlier in the week but was back down to 68 on race day. That temperature was great for some, but difficult for others.
This year’s field was full of many return swimmers, including 11 people who have competed in the solo race three times or more. We saw fast swimmers from Oregon and across the country, as well as so many swimmers attempting their first marathon swim. On a day when the US Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup, Mackenzie Leake of Stanford Masters became the first woman ever to win the Portland Bridge Swim in 4:59:18. She edged out Oregon’s own Hardy Lussier, after losing to him last year by 23 seconds. This year they swam neck and neck for 11 miles and when they finished, each spoke graciously and admiringly of the other and the fun they had racing together.
We got to see so many people complete this race, and hear their stories of how they got to the beach in Cathedral Park. We never get tired of watching them do their hard work, and being there to cheer for them when they step out of the water in Cathedral Park. Despite the Race Director’s habit of cackling during the pre-race briefing while discussing the challenges of the course, she gets choked up every time another swimmer crosses the finish line. We are so proud of all our swimmers and were honored to have them join us.
Next year’s race will go back to our usual pattern, the second Sunday in July, and will fall on July 12. It will not be a National Championship, which should make life a little easier for our kayak recruiter. Registration will open on January 1, 2020, and will again require a qualifying time of 5000 m or 5500 yds in 1:45 or less. We look forward to seeing everyone on the river again next year!