Many years ago, Frank Drum, the president of the San Francisco Dolphin Club, was quoted in an interview by a local newspaper reporter. Here is his version of the biblical quotation, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” to describe the club’s swimmers in cold San Francisco Bay. “Many are cold,” he said, “but few are frozen.”
I was reminded of that quote on December 18. A sizeable group of swimmers put on an all-day relay swim at Broughton Beach (behind the PDX airport) in the Columbia River. Dawn to dusk. It was remarkable. Here is why: The river temperature was in the vicinity of 42° F on the 18th. To make things even more brisk, the air temperature hovered in the mid-forties, with a persistent cold wind blowing along the river. Frank Drum’s SF Bay swimmers have never seen water temperatures that low, not even for the annual New Year’s Day swim, when the Bay rarely drops below 50 F. And none of these Broughton Beach swimmers were wearing wetsuits, or even layers of grease for protection.
Tough. Brave. Determined. Tenacious. A most remarkable group of 24 swimmers, almost all of them women, ranging in age (by my poor guesstimate) from around 30 to near 60. The first swimmer, Angie, entered the water for a 20-minute leg at 7:30 AM. Swimming east, parallel to the beach, then back west to the start. She was relieved by Jennifer, then the rest in order. The schedule called for swimmers to follow all day, some swimming multiple legs, until Angie swam the last leg at 4:55 PM.
Swim legs varied in length from ten minutes to twenty minutes. Each swimmer was followed along the beach by shore supporters walking along the beach. At the tent headquarters on the west end, a person with a clipboard was keeping a record of each leg. There were chairs, towels, hot food and the other relay swimmers, warming up after their swim or waiting their turn. No fee, no permits, no tee shirts or medals. Just a lot of fun.
I know little about the invigorating challenge of cold water swimming. I love it. I swim in the Columbia much of the year. But I must confess that at the end of October, when the water gets a bit nippy for me, I retire to my favorite indoor pool for the winter. Not so, these relay swimmers. They swim all year round, doing laps up and down, going east against the current, swimming back west with the push of the river flow.
I knew a few of them. Some were with the Ballenas group, some were Yetis, and the rest seemed to be solo swimmers, a lot of them Masters swimmers. No weenies among them. I did not get all of their names, but did manage to snag the rotation list, listing all the swimmers by first name. Here they are:
Angie Williamson (organizer of relay), Jennifer Mercede, Eivind Hagen, Elsa Hume, Lisa Yamamoto, Jan Underwood, Maxx Katz, Megan Glor, Guila Muir, Sheila McGrane, Christina Malango, Caryl Schiavon, Amanda Cross, Suzy Happ, Sue Phillips, Marlys Cappaert, Brad Biddle, Maggie Starr, Dena Marshall, Dan Eckton, Robin Donovan, Lars Rutkowski, Suzanne Scott.
Several of them swam more than one leg. The swimmers all came out of the water with a big smile! All of them deserve plaudits for a remarkable achievement. I am in awe.
Maybe at the end of next October I will be tempted to extend my season a little longer.