Lap, 28.5 Miles
by Terry Tomalin
friends call him the king of rhythm.
Ron Collins gets into a groove ... that's it," said Tom Schwartz,
a 42-year-old physician from Sarasota. "There is no stopping
Clearwater resident left his mark on the record books in 1998, when
he became the first to swim the length of Tampa Bay. Since then,
the computer consultant has looked for new challenges.
just turned 40, so I thought I should do something gnarly to mark
the occasion," he told a small group of like-minded maniacs
gathered on a pier overlooking the Hudson River on Saturday night.
"So I figured why not swim 281/2 miles around Manhattan."
people could think of several good reasons: pain, cold, treacherous
currents ... "It's doable," Collins said confidently.
"Who knows, I might even win this thing."
and Schwartz did some cold-water training last winter in Florida.
But Collins knew a little extra weight might help a warm-water swimmer
through the eight-hour ordeal.
drank a lot of Budweiser, ate a lot of ice cream," Collins
said. "I feel good."
race, in its 21st year, usually draws a dozen or more swimmers;
some seasoned professionals, others newcomers to open-water swimming.
This year's cast included an accountant, chemist, student and mother
swam for themselves, others for families, a few for friends lost
in the Sept.11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Sunday, they gathered in the darkness a few blocks from Ground Zero
and, one by one, slipped into the 68-degree water and swam toward
the East River.
knew time was on his side. He figured the cold water would take
its toll on Schwartz, who beat him a month earlier in a 2.4-mile
race along St. Pete Beach.
only weighs 140 pounds, so I know he is going to get cold,"
Collins said. "This is one sport where weight can work toward
started the race early, hoping the swimmers could take advantage
of the incoming Tide to carry them up the East River, beneath the
Brooklyn Bridge and north along FDR Drive.
had a support boat to keep other watercraft away and a kayaker responsible
for supplying the swimmer with food and drink.
swimmers had elaborate systems of resupply, specialty drinks and
carbohydrate bars to make sure their bodies had the necessary fuel
to power them around the world's most expensive piece of real estate.
Collins chose a simpler approach.
and Snickers bars," he said. "That is all I need."
did insist, however, that wife Lea Ann keep track of his strokes,
time, distance and position within the 14-swimmer pack.
down ... you are going too fast," she yelled as her husband's
stroke rate surpassed the magic mark of 60 per minute. "It
is too early to start pushing it."
swimmers, boats and kayaks were packed together as they passed beneath
the Williamsburg Bridge, which links Brooklyn with the Lower East
had anticipated this. He had studied maps, charts, even satellite
photographs of the course. And Saturday, he took a boat tour around
Manhattan, leaving nothing to chance.
one place worried him: Hells Gate, where the tides of Long Island
Sound meet the southerly flowing Harlem River and the northerly
flowing East River.
these tides create whirlpools hazardous even to small boats,"
the race literature says. "I don't know which I would rather
deal with, Hells Gate or sharks," said Collins, who has grown
accustomed to swimming with pesky predators in Tampa Bay.
two hours after he started, Collins passed through Hells Gate and
the Harlem," he said before the race when asked about his game
less than a mile, he moved from sixth to second, passing bridge
after bridge, methodically working his way toward the Hudson River.
a few minutes, he faltered, suffering through a painful "stitch"
in his side as he passed a railway yard surrounded by a razor-wire
topped security fence. But he powered through it, and by 11 a.m.
he had passed beneath the Henry Hudson Bridge with just one swimmer
ahead of him.
Watts, a 34-year-old mother of two from Manchester, Md., has completed
the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, which Collins founded, and hopes to
swim the English Channel.
had a 100-yard lead when she entered the Hudson River, but Collins
believed if he caught the fast-moving current in the center of the
river, he could make up time.
swimming far from land is chancy. If you catch the current right,
you can finish the last third of the race in a couple of hours.
A strong south wind, however, can kick up waves that rival an ocean
there are the boats.
he see us?" a panicked Lea Ann asked as a 25-foot speedboat
headed toward her husband. Collins' crew waved the craft off, but
not before everybody on the support boat questioned the wisdom of
the wind kicked up, and Collins had to fight his way through whitecaps
on what was supposed to be the easiest part of the journey.
officials said the water quality was good and only after heavy rains
did swimmers have to worry about bacterial infections. To be safe,
Collins wore ear plugs, but there was nothing he could do about
taking an occasional mouthful of water.
down the river, the Coast Guard ordered Collins and the others to
swim closer to shore. There were too many boats. But then the wind
and currents pushed him too close to land, and he almost was washed
beneath some broken-down shipping piers.
kept his composure, though, and gathered the necessary energy to
swim to open water. Seven hours into the race, he tapped into a
strong southerly current and again found his rhythm. He rounded
the corner at Battery Park with the Statue of Liberty smiling down
on him. Eight hours after he started, he completed his 27,000th
finished second, 14 minutes behind Watts and seven minutes in front
the race had only been longer ... " the master of rhythm said.
"All I needed was a little more time."
Pictures (click to enlarge)