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The idea for an open-water event in Sitka Sound was hatched last year, after Rose completed Ketchikan’s Pennock Island Challenge. Rose traveled to Sitka and became the first person believed to have swum across Sitka Sound, from Kruzof Island to Halibut Point Rec.
It didn’t take her long to realize why the sport has been slow to catch on in Alaska.
“The challenges are, particularly here since nobody swims, there are unknown things in the water: jellyfish, bears, potentially sharks, big fish, orcas. And there are currents, tidal, wind, chop – you’re not sure what you’re going to get.”
Rose says that the triathlon community has spurred interest in open-water swimming. Although open-water purists traditionally don’t use wetsuits, the recent availability of stretchy wetsuits used for triathlons has increased the sport’s numbers. Rose says many open-water events now have wetsuit divisions.
Still, she says there are some basic do’s and don’ts for novices.
“Preferably swim with someone else, or have someone walk along the beach, stay in fairly shallow water to test the currents. And then it’s quite a lot of fun to walk along and see things changing – maybe past the totem park and see the different totem poles. And that’s part of what I use to navigate – things I can see that I think I should be passing at some point.”
Most of this Saturday’s open-water swim clinic will be spent indoors. Besides Claudia Rose, Dorothy Thomas-Reid will also speak. Thomas-Reid is the US National Masters Open-Water Swim champion in the 10-k. She says there’s a lot to cover before getting into the water.
“We’re going to talk briefly about the history of open-water swimming, the current trends now in the United States. We’ll talk extensively about how to train for open-water swimming, what to look at in terms of the risks because safety is so important. How do you physically and mentally prepare to swim in the open water. Claudia’s going to do a special section on training for the cold water and talking about hypothermia. And then we’re going to wrap up with the one-mile practice swim.”
The open-water clinic is scheduled to begin at 9 AM Saturday (6-26-10) in Harrigan Centennial Hall. The clinic is free, though donations will be accepted at the blue bus out front to cover costs. The practice swim will happen at 3 PM at the beach next to the Indian River, in Sitka National Historical Park.
Rose and Thomas-Reid will provide triathlon wetsuits for those who want to try them out.
The Adventure Swim is schedule for August 8, a week prior to the Pennock Island Challenge. The event is a benefit for the American Diabetes Association. For more information visit www.sitkaadventureracing.org. Relay teams are encouraged.
Shady Grove Oliver contributed to this story.
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