Veteran marathon swimmer Suzie Dods announced a 24-hour relay for Aquatic Park in San Francisco on February 8th-9th, 2014.
The course will be entirely set up within Aquatic Park where the water temperature is expected to be around 10ºC (50ºF) in February.
The four-person relay will have to deal with some fairly cool water temperatures in mid-winter. Dods explains, "Why winter? Because it'll be hardcore. We are sticking with one cap. Jammers are fine. Each team will be allowed one wetsuit swimmer. This has been something I've been thinking about for years and Aquatic Park is the place to do it.."
Dods' event reminds us of the famed 24 Heures La Tuque - a 2-person relay competition - held in the 1960s and 1970 in Lac Louis in the town of La Tuque in Québec, Canada.
Sandra Bucha, Nabil El Shazly, Marwan Ghazawi, Gilles Potvin (now 71 shown above) , Rejean LaCourseire, John Kinsella, Diana Nyad, Gaston Paré, Bill Heiss, Paul Asmuth, James Kegley and many others from that era participated in Le Marathon de 24 Heures de La Tuque.
Gilles Potvin shares the record with Rejean LaCourseire as the individual with the most 24-hour relays in La Tuque. "I remember one time helping John Kinsella who was swimming with Bill Heiss. They were 12 hours into the race and they are swimming fast, going for the record. Bill had a sore shoulder and a sore neck. He was a little stunned, but then he said to me, 'You really swam that 7 times? You are crazy.'"
Little did Heiss really know the passion Potvin has for the sport. "I remember one year when my teammate got sick and just left two-thirds into the race. He just left the site, and our coach told me, 'Go one more lap. He is sick to his stomach.' So I did, but he wasn't there. I did it again. And again. I kept swimming [without my teammate] for 7 hours and I was ready to go all the way if I had to. But when he came back, I was really glad. You know, late at night, in the dark, I had convinced myself that if I had to finish alone, I would. I was not quitting."
Potvin has plenty of memories from the 24-hour relay. "There was a paper mill nearby and it gave out fumes. It was so bad that the cars would have a thin white film on them in the morning. We were breathing that stuff. I got really sick during the races before they suspended operations during the swim. I had to put tubes up my nose after the race I was so sick. There were so many spectators around the lake watching the 24 Heures La Tuque. They would drink all night and some of their beer cans would be floating around the lake. We would hit them again and again: boom, boom, boom. But we kept on swimming even thought it was tough getting in and out of the water, racing for 24 hours, especially at night. Open water swimming is a sport I adore. It's one of the rare sports in which just finishing is an accomplishment."
The first 24 Heures La Tuque Swim was held in 1965 in Lac Louis, a small circular lake surrounded by a sidewalk and grass areas that provided excellent viewing of the entire lake. The course itself was also circular and marked by buoys along the ⅓-mile length.
The rules dictated that one swimmer could swim as many laps as he or she choose as long as at least one lap was completed. The 2 relay members could only change at the partner-changing dock.
The swim was inspired by the famous 1963 60-mile (96.5 km) race across Lake Michigan when Egyptian Abdul Latif Abou-Heif beat American Ted Erikson. The crème de la crème of open water swimming in the 1960′s and 1970′s flocked to the incredible race of endurance.
Horatio Iglesias of Argentina (shown above) won the race a record six times.
In 1980, Paul Asmuth and James Kegley finished first and second in the professional Atlantic City Around-the-Island Swim and were invited to Lac Louis as the team to beat.
Asmuth described their race strategy, “James and I each swam a mile at a time. The day was cool and raining and water low 60°s. The night was very cold and there was a bunk house to go into to try and warm up in the twenty minutes between shifts.”
In a typical display of stamina typical of those pioneering days, the race organizers paid for an Egyptian swimmer to swim by himself for 24 hours. Asmuth fondly remembers his stout competitor, “...the cold did not affect him. He had those old style scuba goggles on and he would smile and wave under water each time James and I passed him; it was a very funny sight. It was something to look forward to during the monotony of the night when the spectators went home around 2 a.m. James and I each swam a mile at a time. The day was cool and raining and water low 60°s. The night was very cold and there was a bunk house to go into to try and warm up in the twenty minutes between shifts."
Because the race was organized as a commercial venture by the local chamber of commerce, there was a festival next to the lake and many spectators throughout the race except for 2-6 a.m. Labatt Brewery was the main sponsor and, as Asmuth recalls much beer was consumed.
As Asmuth and Kegley pushed themselves to exhaustion, there was not much competition so they focused on breaking the record of Olympian John Kinsella and his Indiana University teammate Bill Heiss. Kinsella and Heiss had previously swum 203 laps. By the 24th hour, Asmuth and Kegley had swim 207 laps of Lake Louie or about 69 miles total (34.5 miles or 55 km each).
Asmuth recalled, “James ended up swimming one lap further than me because I needed a little extra rest during the night and he was a great friend for that.”
Throughout the race, Asmuth and Kegley never let up and relied on each other to motivate each other. “We wrote notes to each other to communicate how we felt and there was a lot of humor as I recall,” said Kegley, also an inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and All-American from Indiana University. “I think we questioned our sanity at some points, particularly at around 3 or 4 am when the bands had stopped, the people had passed out or gone home and the only sign of life were the few officials and other swimmers.”
But, the men were serious about breaking the Kinsella-Heiss record and never let up during the lonely hours of the late night/early morning. “We had to tag each others hands before plunging in off the floating platform and since we were going for a record, we didn’t stop to chat,” said Kegley. “The hard part was just beginning to get warmed up and then hopping back in. It was surreal watching the sun come up and seeing people around 7 or 8 am drift in, all the while painfully aware we had been swimming all day and night. I seem to recall someone brought in donuts in the wee hours.”
In-and-out, in-and-out…of 15°C (60°F) water...for 24 hours The race is no longer held, but remains legendary among the pioneering professional marathon swimmers.
Additional articles on the famed race include the following:
* Sandra Bucha, A Cog In The Machine In 1974
* Gilles Potvin, Still Passionate 71 Years Into It
* Round And Round They Swam 24 Hours In 15°C
* Marwan Ghazawi, A Career Interrupted, A Career Done Well
* The Passion Continues With Marwan Saleh
* What The Mind Believes, The Body Achieves
* Sandra Bucha Inducted In International Marathon Swimming Hall Of Fame
Now is the time for this generation to enjoy their own 24-hour non-stop relay. For more information on the 24-hour relay in Aquatic Park in San Francisco on February 8th-9th, 2014, visit here at the Marathon Swimmers Forum.
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