CHESTERTOWN — The water temperature was 85 degrees Saturday, July 13, too warm for the Swim for Life benefit at Rolph’s Wharf Marina to offer the usual six distance options.
The annual event is hosted by the District of Columbia Aquatics Club. Though the swim club is based in Washington, the swim is open to anyone.
The club is a “high-energy swim team and social club whose mission is to promote swimming for fitness, health and wellness and competition for the LGBT community and their allies in a team-oriented, coached setting,” its website states.
DCAC, with nearly 200 members, is one of the largest U.S. Masters Swimming teams in the Potomac Valley region, as well as one of the largest — primarily, but not exclusively — LGBT teams in the world, according to its website.
Event organizer Sue Majewski said Swim for Life was established in Provincetown, Mass., in 1988. Founder Joe Steward brought the swim to Maryland in 1991; the first swims were held in Oxford in Talbot County before the venue changed to Rolph’s Wharf.
“The swim benefits two charities that provide services and counseling to people with HIV: Heart to Hand based in Prince George’s County, and Quality of Life Retreats based in Fulton,” Majewski wrote in an email Monday, July 15.
Swim for Life additionally benefits ShoreRivers. The environmental group assists the swim with water safety reports, monitors the water quality, lays out the course and positions the buoys and provides salads for the post-swim picnic lunch, Majewski said in the email.
Usually the swim features a 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-mile swim with the option to participate in a 2.4-mile triathlon challenge. Because of the water temperature in the Chester River on Saturday, the 4- and 5-mile swims were not offered. Additionally, swimmers were not permitted to wear wetsuits.
Water quality also was a factor this year. Majewski said about two weeks ago, the river’s water quality was recorded as unsafe to swim by ShoreRivers. The day before the race, however, the water quality was recorded as “well below the recommended EPA levels,” she said.
The 128 registered and chipped swimmers were advised to forego the swim if they had open cuts, to take precautions against ear infections and to avoid swallowing water.
This was Majewski’s first year running the show. She was a co-host last year.
Her Swim for Life résumé also includes having participated at all six distances.
For Majewski, the event is more about enjoying the beauty of the Eastern Shore and the Chester River than it is a competitive race — though swimmers do take the race seriously.
“I swim to enjoy the herons, osprey, and I hoped to maybe even see a dolphin. So it’s important to have a healthy river,” Majewski said.
Majewski said swimming in the Chester serves as a good introduction to open water swimming. The river is shallow enough that it is easy to get to areas where a swimmer can stand if they need to.
Ingrid Mercer, who has participated in the race five times, said water temperature plays a role in the safety of swimmers in an open water event.
“It would be like running outside when it’s 65 degrees versus 95 degrees,” Mercer said.
In a talk before the start of the swim, safety director Katie Humpfrey advised swimmers to be “aware of themselves and check in with themselves often.” She said while a runner cools themselves during a workout by sweating, swimmers are cooled by the water. When the water temperature is high, swimmers can overheat.
Despite the water temperature, Mercer said she was happy to participate in the swim because it benefits “great causes on a great day.”
She said she “loves this race” and planned to complete the 5-mile swim, but ultimately chose the 3-mile option.
Another factor was the tide, which Majewski said can make swimming frustrating.
On their return leg to Rolph’s Wharf Marina, swimmers were going against the tide. Mercer said swimming in tidal waters can be an adjustment for swimmers who are accustomed to a pool.
As to the “Chester River mustache” of mud that swimmers often acquire after swimming in the river here, Mercer said she usually ends up with a “whole goatee.”
The winners by age group — with times — are listed here.
Male, 30 and younger: Ben Spulber, 1:36:47.5
Female, 30 and younger: Laurie Wei, 1:30:09.5
Male, 31 to 45: Christopher DeZago, 1:24:05.6
Female, 31 to 45: Katie Stefl, 1:25:14.9
Male, 46 and older: Craig Dewing, 1:22:59.7
Female, 46 and older: Holly Donnelly, 1:38:45.1
2.4 miles (all ages)
Male: Shane Donovan, 1:11:22.4
Female: Kathleen Brooks, 1:31:51.2
2 miles, all ages
Male: Mike Dowley, 58:11.4
Female: Meredith Stakem, 57:49.0
1 mile, all ages
Male: Dana Connors, 24:20.5
Female: Laura Hanby, 28:34.6