Swimming the length of Lake Tahoe takes skill, determination and a good support team. Christian Tujo and Lee O’Connor had just that, plus some extra brownies and a persistent seagull that stuck with them for at least 8 miles! In all seriousness, this was one EPIC swim and I was so happy to be part of it.
The Lake Tahoe Length Swim is one of the hardest marathon swims due to the lake’s elevation (~6,200ft.). The feat begins on the South Shore of the lake at Camp Richardson Beach (CA). After swimming 21.3 miles, Hyatt Beach at Incline Village (NV) marks the completion of the marathon swim.
Christian and Lee began their swim at 5:45am on Friday, September 11, 2020, as a special tribute to the heroes as well as those who lost their lives on that fateful day 19 years ago. The lake conditions couldn’t have been more perfect that day. The wind was basically non-existent for most of the swim, and despite a little smoke in the air and on the horizon, the water was so pillowy soft and smooth, so gentle, like glass. The water was so blue – that Tahoe blue – and so crystal clear. I remember crossing the deepest part of the lake in my kayak, with the blue abyss falling away beneath me and I had difficulty distinguishing the water from the sky, the colors matched so closely. I felt like I was in another world – what an experience. Just 13.5 hours later, Christian and Lee were walking out of the water in sheer exhaustion, but more importantly, unbelievably proud of their achievement. I was so excited for them, so proud of them, so happy to see them smiling. I still can’t fathom the enormity of this swim, just incredible! But enough from me. I’d like you to hear from Christian and Lee. Here are their thoughts on their amazing accomplishment.
Last year I decided to honor the victims and heroes of 9/11 by swimming a long distance event each year on 9/11. In 2019, I contacted Tom Linthicum, famous Lake Tahoe guide boat Captain, who was inspired by the idea and agreed to be my guide for my Tahoe swims. In 2019, I did The Godfather swim, a 12-mile width from Cave Rock to The Godfather II movie mansion. Lake Tahoe proved to be one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever experienced. The most striking attribute of the lake being the clarity of the water, you can look down and see your toes, so crystal clear. After this amazing experience, I wanted to share it with another Oregon Masters Swimmer! In 2020, I put out an open invitation for one additional swimmer. Within one day, I received an indication of interest from Lee O’Connor. I remembered Lee from the Elk Lake Open Water Swims in 2019. Lee saved my swimming day by providing me with a Hot Shot that instantly relieved full body cramping after the 5,000 meter event. We than chugged a cider during the cider relays. I would never forget Lee!
The table was set, Lee and I decided to tackle another 12 mile swim, but wait! I had another proposal for him, should we go for the length? Lee marinated on the idea, and later agreed that the 21.3 mile Length of Tahoe would be the swim for us. Lee and I spent the next 7 months training for the swim. We had memorable swims at Timothy Lake where Lee introduced me to our support crew, Sara Shepherd and Trevor Williams. These two were an amazing support crew for us in Tahoe. They left nothing to the imagination, always executing each feed with minute detail. They kept us both calm when we felt overwhelmed by the magnificence of the swim. I recall getting to the 20,000 meter mark, and Lee and I looked at one another shaking our heads, are you kidding me we still have 15,000 meters to go!
After whining for a couple of feeds, I remembered what Bob Bruce always said during 10K Postal Swims, “put your head down and swim, Chris.” So onward we went. Before long we had 10k left, and the lake decided to challenge us beyond belief. Tahoe can change on a dime, and of course we would not be given an easy finish. Lee and I would encourage each other through the pain, we would not be denied our opportunity to close out this epic day! Trevor sighted our landing, we locked onto it, and picked up steam! With 1,000 meters to go the smiles emerged from beneath the water! Lee and I would make it together!!
There were so many incredible memories from swimming Tahoe, picking one would be tragic…However, there is one memory that might just sum up our entire adventure.
About noon, we were 6 hours in, and in the middle of Lake Tahoe. The sun was directly overhead and the water was like glass. Sara was just to my right providing kayak support, Trevor was in the pilot boat with Tom keeping us on the GPS line, and Christian was on my left setting the pace. Breathe right for navigation, breathe left for pace. All I did was enjoy the moment. Absolutely perfect…
HUGE Congratulations, Christian and Lee! Well done!