Monday, July 12, 2010

52 take a swim in tepid Allegheny

This is fun on a number of levels.

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Despite a dead river rat and fish, some leaves and branches, and too-warm water, conditions were nearly ideal for U.S. Master Swimming's "Search for Monongy" event -- even if few knew what the event name meant.

About midday Sunday, 52 swimmers swam a 1.2-mile loop in the Allegheny River -- some doing it twice -- from the Heinz Field boat ramp against the current to a turn-around under the Clemente Bridge. During the first-ever 1.2 and 2.4-mile open water swim, one swimmer had to be fished from the river with cramps and another couldn't complete the loop.

But the rest praised the "flawless" and "well-organized" event as one great, wet adventure.

52 take a swim in tepid Allegheny: "Jimmy Goldman, 73, of Squirrel Hill, and his son, Carl, 46, of Greenfield, rode bikes seven miles to the river before the elder Mr. Goldman swam 1.2 miles -- 1.3 miles counting a wayward detour -- and won his 70-to-75 age division. The younger Mr. Goldman finished the 2.4-mile competition at 54:14, second only to Robert Clark of Pittsburgh, who finished in 53:02."

Then the tireless Goldmans pedaled home.

"The important thing is getting fed," the elder Mr. Goldman said afterward, eating a doughnut then a sandwich. "There were leaves, one bottle and something dead, but the river was really clear and clean, and a hair on the warm side."

Actually it was a tepid 84 degrees Fahrenheit with a gentle 0.1 mph current.

Most swimmers have high-school and college swimming experience and now are members of swimming clubs, including the event sponsor, Allegheny Mountain Masters, the local chapter of U.S. Masters Swimming, an organization of amateur adult swimmers.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the 0.6-mile segment of the river to boat traffic, with River Rescue and volunteer kayakers available to help swimmers in distress.

Two people entered the "white-knuckles" division that allows fins and floating devices, but the other 52 swimmers were buoyed only by confidence.

"There are no lines on the bottom, and it's hard to swim straight," said Matt Meade, 45, of Mt. Lebanon, after completing the 1.2-mile race. "It was inspiring going under the big [Fort Duquesne] bridge and looking side to side to see the big city. It was pretty special."

Brian Day, 50, of Canonsburg, finished second overall in the 1.2-mile race with a time of 30:01, despite going 400 yards beyond the turn-around buoy under the Clemente Bridge. Janet McDonough, 51, of Cranberry, posted the winning 1.2-mile time of 29:08.

"Once you are in, you are committed," Mr. Day said. "You can't grab the wall and rest."

Overall winners and runners-up received Dick's Sporting Goods gift certificates, while age-group winners won blue and red ribbons.

Event organizer Katherine Longwell, of Sewickley, and chairwoman of Allegheny Mountain Masters, said the "Search for Monongy" -- local river lore about a man-eating catfish named Monongy -- was so successful the so-called search will be repeated next year.

And, for sure, cheers erupted when Dave Watterson, 52, of Brentwood, was the last to emerge from the river, uneaten by Monongy, after the 2.4-mile swim. An organizer even proclaimed with sounds of surprise, "We didn't lose anybody." Drying off, Mr. Watterson said he was more than anxious to repeat the river hunt for Monongy.

"They should hold another one in January," he said.

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Erik and I rode our bikes to the North Shore to soak in the event yesterday and check it out. So, we were there as the reporter was doing the interviews, talking to our friends, the Goldmans and Dave -- both quoted above.

Carl is in great shape these days. He is fast. He beat Erik in the open water race at Moraine State Park a few weeks ago.

This day Erik was swimming in the pool -- as there was a USA Swimming meet, a "senior curcuit meet" at Pitt's pool. It is a 'senior meet' but not a 'masters meet.' The open water swim was for 'masters.' Erik swam the 100 meter free and again did the 100 meter in the relay, otherwise I had hopes of putting in the canoe and going out on the water to help guide the swimmers. But, we just rolled there on our bikes and watched from the 'shore.'

Dave Watterson was the last out of the water -- but -- he gave everyone a 20-minute head start. There was something a tad goofy about his registration and he did choose to swim the longer distance. And, he did the first loop in time to beat the cut off, so he keep his motor on and went around the loop again. When we got to see him swimming, I told Erik, that guy looks long and strong. I wondered why he was so far 'behind.' Well, that made sense.

Last year Dave did a swim on New York's Long Island Sound that was more than 4 miles. I remember as he drove away to that meet from antoher swim meet. He coaches in the south hills at Baldwin Aqua (a club) and Brentwood HS. Plus he is a swim official too. And, most of all, he is a dad of a kid about to enter 10th grade, like me. But his daughter isn't into the swims with the natural conditions -- just yet. But Dave joked about the January swim as he is also a fellow polar bear swimmer. We were together on the morning of January 1, jumping into the Mon! Oh the memories.

I was very happy to see the event unfold yesterday in the river without any problems.

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