Getting around Manhattan, but not by taxi or train

Yale graduate Abby Nunn, 22, of Richmond, Va., placed first in the 2012 Manhattan Marathon Swim on Sunday.           Photos by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  One way to pass a beautiful summer day in Manhattan is to swim around the island. That’s what 73 people from 10 countries elected to do around 10:20 a.m. on Sun., June 23, when they jumped into the Hudson River in Battery Park City’s South Cove and headed downriver on a 28.5-mile swim. There were 38 solo swimmers ranging in age from 17 to 59. The rest were members of relay teams.

The first around-Manhattan swim took place in 1915, according to Morty Berger, the founder of NYC Swim, which sponsors the race and 10 other New York City swimming races annually. Over the years, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim was held sporadically Berger said, until the early 1990s when it again emerged as a fixture on New York City’s summer calendar. It has been there ever since.

For open-water swimmers, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim is considered one of the big three that make up the “Triple Crown,” indicating the highest level of achievement. The other two races are the 21-mile trip across the English Channel and the 20-mile race from Santa Catalina Island to San Pedro on the Los Angeles coastline, where complications can include whales, dolphins, jellyfish and sharks.

Large and poisonous marine life in Manhattan waters is minimal, but swimmers do have to contend with cruise ships, ferries and commercial boats that create chop in their wake. They also have to contend with tides and currents on the Hudson.

Around a dozen of this year’s marathon swimmers were Triple Crowners, said Berger, including those who had already earned the title and those who were swimming in the Manhattan Marathon in order to claim it. He said that every year enrollment for the race fills up within an hour after it opens. It costs just under $2,000 to participate — plus transportation and room and board for several days.

Seven hours, 30 minutes and 26 seconds after leaving South Cove, the first swimmer returned. Abby Nunn, 22, from Richmond, Va., came in more than 17 minutes before the second-place finisher, Javier Gutierrez, 38, of Marina del Rey, Calif. Not having seen Nunn, Gutierrez asked, “Am I first?” when he touched the finish line.

“You’re the first man,” he was told.

[/media-credit] Steve Faulkner, 50, of Barrie, Ontario, was the last to finish the Manhattan Marathon Swim as dusk was falling. With tears in her eyes, his mother, Annette, waved him in to the finish line with her Canadian flag.

Nunn just graduated from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where she had the highest grade-point average of any senior varsity athlete. She majored in the history of science and medicine and plans to enter the University of Virginia Medical School in the fall.

She started swimming when she was 5 and started competitive swimming at 16. Prior to the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the longest open-water race in which she had ever participated was 12.5 miles.

“I can’t believe that I made it!” she said of the Manhattan swim. “I just wanted to finish. I wasn’t thinking about a gold place or anything. I just wanted to get around.”

She said that she found the Hudson “pretty choppy.” She had been told it would be an easy ride down the Hudson but, she said, “That’s not what I experienced. In the last half hour, I kept saying to myself, ‘Keep swimming! Keep swimming!’ When I was fighting really big waves at the end, I started to feel fatigued, but for the first six hours, I felt great.”

The last person to come in was Steve Faulkner, 50, of Barrie, Ontario. It took him 10 hours and 12 minutes to do the circumnavigation. The last previous swimmer to complete the course had arrived more than half an hour before. By the time Faulkner approached North Cove in Battery Park City, around a quarter mile from the finish line, the sun was setting. The tide that had given the other swimmers an extra push down the river had turned and he was swimming against it.

A Police Department scuba team and a Coast Guard vessel accompanied him and people on shore yelled encouragement. His mother, Annette, said he had given her a Canadian flag and asked her to wait for him at the last turn and wave it.

“When I see you,” he said, “I’ll know I’m almost there.”

She said she waited for him for hours.

“I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to finish,” she said. “This meant so much to him. He worked so hard for this.” She had tears in her eyes.

When Faulkner arrived at the finish line, he was hardly able to walk, but he was smiling.

After the race, as Bob Needham, 59, of Lake Oswego, Ore., toweled off, someone remarked to him, “There are probably very few people in the world who could do what you did today.” He agreed.

“The community of open-water swimmers is a small one,” he said.

The next NYC Swim event will be the Statue of Liberty race on June 29, which will take 401 swimmers on a three-quarter-mile course around Liberty Island. It will be followed by the Brooklyn Bridge swim on the morning of July 15.

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