Trans Tahoe Relay Swim
July 18, 2015
By Arlene Delmage with rendering by Jill Marie Asch
When my good buddy Graham Johnston called me to ask if I would participate in the Trans-Tahoe relay with him, who was I to say no? The Trans-Tahoe relay is a notorious open water swim run by the Olympic Club in San Francisco, famous for high altitude, at 6200 feet, cold water, typically around 58 degrees, and of course no wetsuits allowed. For no one else would I have said yes but I did because I knew that Graham is part of a six man relay attempting the Catalina Channel swim on August 20, 2015. (Ed note: at the time this was written, the Catalina Channel swim had not taken place). The group of six, Graham Johnston, age 84, Masters of South Texas; Bob Beach, age 84, St. Pete’s Masters, FL; David Radcliff, age 81, Oregon Masters, Tualatin Hills; Don Baker and Bob Best of San Diego Masters; Bill Spore, not a USMS swimmer but Uncle to Karlyn Pipes-Nielson; and substitute Norm Stupfel of Walnut Creek CA; hope to break the world record for men in their 80s attempting this swim. I don’t imagine that they have too much competition in this category. (Ed note: the Catalina Channel swim has no records for men 80 or over; for men 70-79 it is 10:57.06).
As we sat around at night and listened to these gentlemen discuss the formation of USMS and tales of Ransom J. Arthur vehemently insisting that Masters Swimming be open to all swimmers and not just Olympians and National Champions, we knew that we were in for a historic weekend. At least that is how I peddled it to my two female swim mates Jill Marie Asch, age 48, from Multnomah Athletic Club, and Bonnie Edwards, age 43, from Oregon Reign Masters. I have to give them credit for attempting this swim that combines two of my least favorite things: (a) getting up early, and (b) cold water. Jill Asch is an accomplished sprinter (and I mean 50s) and has never done an open water swim. Bonnie Edwards is an accomplished open water swimmer but has never done ocean swimming or anything like this before.
Speaking of ocean swimming, that is what Lake Tahoe was like as we traversed the northern part of the lake in the wee morning hours to reach our starting point. The lake was white-capping and before we reached our destination the entire boat was engulfed in a tidal wave rendering everyone wet and cold. Our boat captain told us these were the worst conditions he had seen in his five years of driving boats on Lake Tahoe. I had a lot to say about this but I remained silent when I realized that not one of our 80+ year old men seemed to be phased by this. I guess there is something to, “been there done that”. For the record both Johnston and Radcliff competed in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics respectively as distance swimmers.
Eleanor Roosevelt said “We gain strength, courage and confidence with every experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face. We must do that which we think we cannot.”
Due to unusual morning lake conditions we arrived at Sand Harbor a few minutes late. This put the pressure on Bonnie as she needed to check in prior to the deadline. When she jumped off the boat Bonnie underestimated the depth of the water and was unable to keep her coat dry as she tried to quickly make it to the shore.
So much for age before beauty! The Old Guys and Babes were by far the oldest relay with a combined age of 396. In fact the three men on our relay are the oldest participants to have ever competed in the Trans Tahoe Relay.
Bonnie started at 8:30am in the 4th and final wave. Our experienced captain stayed back outside the buoys as Arlene and Jill Marie frantically searched the choppy, dark waves for their friend. About 20 minutes into her 30 minute swim Bonnie is spotted and the captain maneuvers the boat alongside her.
Our second swimmer was Arlene “I am a tropical girl”, followed by “Just a sprinter” Jill Marie.
Next up was “Training for Catalina” David and the fifth position was Hall of Famer Graham. Bob “The Judge” brought up the rear.
Thankfully the sun started to peek out around 10:00 a.m. and conditions improved. Each of us completed a 30 minute swim followed by a 15 minute swim. Bonnie, Arlene and Jill also completed a 10 minute leg which brought us in under five hours. Given the age of our team race organizers were surprised that we finished so quickly. We took that as a compliment.
WHAT A RUSH!!! We finished 119th out of 222 teams in 4 hours and 54 minutes. It was an amazing experience. So many perfect moments.