Weekends with Womack

Supporting the sharks: Boston Sharkfest 2015

Last week I posted about what an unexpectedly excellent active summer I’ve had. Fall is hard upon our heels in the northern hemisphere (google says it starts Sept 23), but I’m wringing out the last drops of summer nectar, with the weather, friends, and opportunities fully cooperating.

Yesterday my friends Janet and Steph and I got up very very very early (5:45am, which for me is like the middle of the night), to head to downtown Boston to help provide kayak support for the Boston Sharkfest open harbor swim event. It’s a 1500-meter open water swim across Boston harbor, and hundreds of swimmers do this, some in wetsuits and some in bathing suits. The cool (and necessary thing) about this event is that the shipping channel is closed during the event, so you get this illicit and delicious feeling of being let loose somewhere you would not otherwise get to explore. Here’s the map of the swim route:


I think this is one of the coolest feelings ever. When they close Storrow Drive in Boston on July 4 and you can walk down the highway, or when they close the Verrazano bridge for the Five Boro Bike Ride in New York City, it is a thrilling feeling to be where you normally cannot. Here’s what I was able to see from my kayak:


Holding big events like open water swims and the swim part of triathlons requires a lot of support help in order to keep swimmers on track and safe. We joined a group of kayakers, paddle boarders and one surfer lifeguard (who paddled with his hands back and forth, covering at least 4 miles) to station ourselves along the route to basically herd the swimmers along the course. We were also keeping a sharp eye out for anyone in distress who needed a breather or some encouragement, and also for anyone with a medical emergency.

Honestly, I would have been scared to death to be in that open water without the security of my boat and paddle. Here’s where they were:

swimmer in process

In fact we joked with the swimmers when they stopped or looked a little discouraged, telling them how awesome they were and how funny it was that we needed boats to cross the area that they were swimming.

There was a huge range of finishing times, and the cutoff was 50 minutes; they had to reopen the channel to boats, so were constrained. I was accompanying a few of the last swimmers, who were tiring but continuing on.


We could see the finish line. They had to swim to the dock, touch the electronic pad to get their time, and then swim around to the ladder.

finish line

This swimmer I talked to later had not only successfully done this one-mile swim after having ankle surgery to fuse her ankle, but she had done a 4-mile swim event in Vermont. Brrrrr.


I was happy to celebrate with what I thought of as my swimmers at the finish line. I never got your names, but hey y’all—you are awe-inspiring athletes!

happy swimmers

Next week I want to talk more about athletic identity; it’s strange that none of the swimmers I talked to thought of themselves as athletes. But of course they are. What’s that about? But for now, let’s all enjoy their triumph.

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