By PATTI SCOTT-BAIER
For The Union Democrat
Tuolumne County Aquatic Masters swimmer Susan White chose a great way to celebrate her 70th birthday. White swam three open water races totaling over five miles in just two days. That’s a daunting challenge for swimmers half her age.
The Del Valle Open Water festival, on June 9-10, began with both a 5K, 3.1 mile and a 10K, 6.2 mile race. The longer events in the reservoir near Livermore were being offered for the first time. With open water races being held at the upcoming Olympics, the interest in open water racing both for masters and youth swimmers has seen a surge in interest.
With increased training over the past few months, White felt she was ready to tackle a longer distance race. She set her sites on the 5K at Del Valle as her new goal for the 2012 season.
White and open water partner, Laurie Perry, 58, joined just under 100 swimmers for the shorter 5K race at the deep water start. The competitors ranged in age from 13-to-73. With calm, warm water of 73 degrees, the swimmers were racing in near perfect conditions. At the starting horn, the swimmers swam clockwise around a rectangular course marked by large tetrahedron buoys at each turn.
Smaller yellow buoys helped with navigation along the course. Both women swam together through the first lap of the race. In the middle of the second lap, White surged strongly ahead and finished on the beach in 2:18:38.50. Perry crossed the line in 2:27:18.14. The extra training practices paid off for White as she finished in first place in the 70-75 age division. Perry was fourth in the 55-59.
The following day began with the shortest race of the festival, the 3/4 mile swim. Over 240 swimmers ranging in age from 11-to-79 started in waves in the sprint race. White was joined by teammates Mary Welsh, 57, and Megan Mills, 42. The course again used the tetrahedrons as corner markers for the slightly irregular triangular course. Smooth, calm water prevailed throughout the race. Welsh exited the water first for the team in 22:51.10. Mills finished in 30:27.05 and White was not far behind in 33:41.95. White captured the silver medal in the 70-74 age group. Welsh finished in fourth place just six seconds behind the third-place finisher in the 55-59 division. Mills was ninth in the 40-44 age group.
To finish out her weekend swims, White lined up for the 2.5K swim. The middle distance race proved to be the most popular of the weekend with just over 300 swimmers participating. A wide range of ages were represented in the race (12-79). White had a strong final swim around the rectangular course. She finished in 1:10:34.80 to capture the silver medal in the 70-74.
White admitted to being both excited and a bit tired after her trio of swims. Her efforts are truly an inspiration to not only her fellow Tuolumne Aquatic Masters teammates, but to all adults. She hopes to encourage others to take the active, exercise path in life rather than the sedentary option.
While her teammates participated at Del Valle, Christine Oliver, 49, raced the one-mile at the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino. The evening reservoir swim has become a popular event for area masters swimmers and triathletes.
At the start, the wind had picked up, creating wavy conditions. Most of the 300-plus participants wore wetsuits in the 70-degree water. Oliver had a strong swim and finished in 30:21. Her time placed her first in the 40-49 age division.
The open water season continues throughout the summer and fall. TCAM swimmers will be traveling to swims including Donner Lake, Santa Cruz, and Whiskey Lake in Redding. The team will also host their annual Pinecrest swim at the end of August.
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