If you need more evidence that swimming is a lifetime sport, the La Jolla Rough Water Swim is proof positive.
Our family recently followed the Chaparral High Swim and Dive team for its annual trek to the lovely seaside town just north of San Diego to compete in the 1-mile ocean swim off La Jolla Cove. Son John, a junior, and daughter Emily, a freshman, are longtime club swimmers and teammates.
For the high school athletes, it’s an early-season bonding event, a quick two-day turnaround that leaves the team slightly bleary-eyed and sore on Monday morning, but brimming with a sense of accomplishment, wonderful memories and a newfound appreciation for each other and their sport.
For those of us with children in the ocean, the Rough Water conjures up a mix of excitement, fear and extraordinary pride.
For this year’s 2,038 finishers — ranging in age from a 6-year-old to Virginia Flagg, 83, of La Jolla — it is testament to hard work, endurance and the joy of swimming.
The event itself — now in its 93rd year — is so well run that there’s really no need to worry (still, that’s what I do best). Lifeguards on surfboards are placed along the triangular course to keep swimmers from going too far off track and aid those who are struggling. The dry land scene is well organized, too, and includes food booths and plenty of room in grassy Scripps Park above the cove to spread out and relax while awaiting your swim. Teams and families come from up and down the West Coast, Arizona and Colorado to compete in America’s oldest and largest open water swim competition.
The Rough Water is no mean feat, and the Sept. 13 event — John’s fourth, Emily’s second — absolutely lived up to its name, with 10- to 12-foot swells and much slower times to prove it. In all the years we’ve been hanging around La Jolla, I can’t remember seeing waves this big.
Younger swimmers, up to age 12, swim a 250-yard loop within the cove. The amateurs (all but three of the Chaparral crew), ages 13-18, swim the mile in separate boys’ and girls’ heats, following a course that takes them out to sea for 800 yards, above the La Jolla Underwater Ecological Reserve, banks left for 460 yards, then around a second buoy for the 500-yard leg back to shore.
A men’s and women’s masters event follows the same course as the amateurs, in several waves to accommodate nearly 1,000 swimmers, ages 19 to 83-year-old Virginia. The 3-mile Gatorman course is basically a roundtrip from the cove to just short of Scripps pier. Among the 491 finishers were Chaparral swimmers Sam Morgan, Tanner Roe and Cody Vitez. Sam took fourth overall, with a time of 1:01:38.
The camaraderie with fellow parents and former strangers is a comfort and a hoot — all of us lining the boardwalk three and four deep. Peering through binoculars to get a glimpse of our kids as they gather on the beach for the start. Getting out of each other’s way so we can snap a photo. Hollering their names though we know they can’t hear us. Looking out for each other’s children as they come back into view after they round the second buoy and head for shore. Congratulating each other before rushing off to embrace our wet, salty, exhilarated swimmers.
As proud as we are of these teenagers, the Rough Water also has something to offer their parents, and grandparents. Most of the top finishers were in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
In the men’s masters, you have to get to 14th place before you find a 19 year old. The third-place finisher, 42-year-old Patrick Brundage of Scottsdale, a dad with our club team whose daughters swam the 250 and the mile, came in just after 53-year-old Scott Bonney of Burton, Wash. Ben Weston, 28, of La Jolla took first. Tanner’s dad, Peter, 49, one of the Chaparral chaperones, also swam the mile.
The women are equally inspiring. Connie Falcon, 30, of La Jolla, took first; Amy Dantzler, 45, of Los Angeles, came in second; and 50-year-old Robynn Masters of Salt Lake City took third.
I don’t know if most kids took notice of the “old folks,” although my daughter and her friend chatted up Virginia after her swim. But as a runner nearing my sixth decade and wondering how long my knees will hold out, swimming holds the possibility of lifetime fitness. How many other sports can several generations enjoy together? How many are prescribed as rehab for injuries, at the same time offering a cardiovascular workout while building endurance and muscle strength? How many offer a head-clearing mental workout at the same time? Just swimming.
We’ll be back next year to cheer on the Chaparral High team, and our youngest will try his first 250. Interested? Check out the La Jolla Rough Water Swim home page to learn more. — Mary K. Reinhart