A personal challenge has become an annual community event, testing the mettle of local athletes with a two-mile swim across the Bay of St. Louis. The 2018 event takes place Sunday, Sept. 16, starting at 7:30am at Henderson Point Boat Launch in Pass Christian (finishing near BSL Harbor). Click here to register.
- story by LB Kovac
Last year, Amelia and her sister, Madeline, put together the inaugural Swim Across the Bay. Fifty-five swimmers (and twelve volunteers) – ranging in age from thirteen to seventy-one years old - lined up beside the dock at Henderson Point Boat Launch on a crisp, grey Sunday morning and took the plunge under the water.
Less than two hours later, all fifty-five swimmers had made it from their starting point in Pass Christian to the Bay St. Louis Municipal Harbor.
“The event was a great way to end the summer season,” said Madeline. “Any later and the water would have been too cool.”
The oldest participant, Chris Roth, 71, completed his first open-water swim in one hour and 36 minutes. At the finish line, Roth celebrated with the youngest participant who was 13.
Roth, who qualified to swim both the 50 yard and 100 yard breast stroke in the 2017 National Senior Olympics, noted that "while this race was about ¾ of mile further than I usually swim, the additional buoyancy of salt water seemed to mitigate the additional distance."
A two-mile swim is no small feat. A 180-pound person will burn more than 1,600 calories over the course of the swim, according to data from Active.com. For comparison, the same person would burn only 300 calories running two miles.
Madeline said, “You’re working your whole body; you’re using your muscles in a different way than you would running or walking.”
Despite the strain of those two miles in the open water, people loved it. “We had people come back and say how much fun they had,” said Madeline. Swimming across the bay, instead of driving around it or across it, was apparently a popular thing.
And, just the day after last year’s race, Amelia announced on Facebook that she and her sister were already planning this year’s race. A commenter on the race’s Facebook page said, “I think you (have) started something.”
Now, this paddle across the bay has grown.
The Second Annual Swim Across the Bay, scheduled for September 16 at 7:30 a.m., is fast approaching, and it already has more swimmers than last year. “We have 56 swimmers signed up so far,” said Amelia, “and there’s room for more.” It is a big bay, after all.
The roster comprises swimmers of all levels, from casual to pro. “This race is made to be fun,” said Amelia. There are no rules regarding wetsuits, swimsuits, or flippers. “You get to come out and swim how you feel most comfortable,” she said. Just be in the water and get from one side to the other.
But it still holds significance for the more competitive swimmer. Madeline said that this gives newbie racers a chance to stretch their wings a bit before entering a sanctioned race. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people who are interested in getting into triathlons to get comfortable swimming open water,” she said.
Volunteer kayakers and paddle boarders, this year sponsored by Bodega BSL, help keep swimmers on course during the two-mile swim.
Why swim across the bay when there is a perfectly good bridge nearby? Amelia and Madeline are both lifelong swimmers. With their experience, they personally know just how challenging, and rewarding, a good swim like this can be.
“The hard part about swimming is getting in the water,” said Amelia. “But once you do, it’s the greatest feeling. It’s like flying.” That feeling can transport the swimmer from diving point to destination. It can make what would be a challenging race into a relaxing, even cathartic experience.
Beyond the health and de-stressing benefits of swimming, joining in on the swim allows you to be a part of a tradition in the making. “We have something unique with this race,” said Amelia. If last year’s swimmers are to be believed, two years of the swim just won’t be enough.
At the very least, you have an opportunity to see a different side of the bay. You are always driving across it, the water peeking out from under the Bay St. Louis Bridge. Why not take a dip?
The year’s swim promises to be extra special. “I’m really looking forward to this year,” Amelia said. “Hopefully, we’ll see some new faces. And some old ones.”
Register for the race here. Find more information about the race, including information, volunteer sign-up, and rules, here.