WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
December 28, 2010
With a solid safety plan already in place for years, an additional safety device will be offered to swimmers in the January 8 International Swimming Hall of Fame’s 41st annual Fort Lauderdale Rough Water Swim off Fort Lauderdale beach.
Since the tragic death of 26-year-old U.S. national team member Fran Crippen at an October open water swim in the United Arab Emirates, open water swimming has come under scrutiny.
While the investigation into Crippen’s death is ongoing, local open water race officials are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of every swimmer and for the race to maintain its perfect safety record.
“This is about safety and lives of swimmers,” said ISHOF CEO and president Bruce Wigo, who has been an open water swimmer since age 10.
ISHOF ordered three hundred open water safety balls that will be made available to any swimmer wishing to use one during the swim.
Wigo first saw a photo of the unique product, that ties around the swimmer’s waist, used at the Pearl River Swim, featuring 15,000 swimmers in China, is not only a flotation safety device but also has a compartment that can hold towels, clothes and valuables when swimming alone in open water.
“I always wanted to try this product, something like this is inevitable,” Wigo said. “It doesn’t impede or slow down the swimmer. It goes around the waist. It’s an inflatable float that rides the back flow of the swimmer, it doesn’t pull, it just rides through the water. There is no drag at all.”
Wigo remembers his early days as an open water swimmer when he put himself at risk unknowingly. “When I look back at it now…” Wigo said.
“We would like as many people possible to use them as an experiment,” Wigo said. “I am convinced if Fran had been wearing this it would have been easy to note that his identification marker wasn’t moving. I think it’s perfect. We want to try to get people to use it.”
Crippen, in Fort Lauderdale last year for an open water clinic for local swimmers and coaches, won the Rough Water Swim in 19 minutes and 25.4 seconds.
ISHOF is working closely with Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue to ensure all standards established by the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) for open water swimming are in place including safety buoys.
The swim is parallel to the beach and swimmers will be observed from both the beach and ocean side of the course.
The open water swim was started in 1969 by the legendary Buck Dawson, founder of the International Swimming Hall of Fame Museum and one of the early open water swimming pioneers.
Wigo is hoping for a good turnout of swimmers of all ages from local clubs, high school and masters teams to the popular event. Numbers were low last year, he said.
Even before Crippen died, some college athletic directors would not allow their teams that were pool training in South Florida during the holidays, to participate in any open water swim because of the risk. College swimmers always looked forward to the change of scenery swimming in the ocean.
Numbers have been low for the College Swim Forum in Fort Lauderdale as well mainly because of the economy and travel problems.
Awards will be presented for the one mile swim in age group, college and masters divisions as well as the top 10 male and female finishers.
Registration is underway online at www.ishof.org or at the ISHOF Gift and Pro Shop. There is also race day registration with an additional $10 fee. The race begins at 9:30 a.m. on Fort Lauderdale Beach at Vistamar Street. The race finishes in front of the ISHOF facility on the beach at SE Fifth Street.
Another open water swim is scheduled for Sunday, January 2 at 9:30 a.m.
The Delray Beach Ocean Rescue Ocean Mile Swim will be held on Anchor Park Municipal Beach right off South Ocean Blvd. The well-organized event, open to all ages, benefits the Delray Beach Ocean Rescue Lifeguard Competition Team. There is free parking at Sandoway Park. Lifeguards will be on paddleboards and all lifeguard towers will be open. For more information call 561-243-7352 or email email@example.com.
Another fun event this weekend is the largest paddle boarding event hosted by Miami.
The World Paddle Association’s Orange Bowl Paddle Championship will take place at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 2 at the Bayside Marketplace Marina, 401 Biscayne Blvd. The event includes a five-mile race from Biscayne Bay to the Miami River for competition and amateur paddle boarders.
There will also be live music, charity raffle and demonstrations. The race is open to anyone. All proceeds benefit Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Great Miami. The event fee is $10. Admission includes credit for a burger and refreshment. For more information go to www.orangebowlpaddle.com.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org