The support teams

By Liz Morrish

Monday 19th June is a rest day. Many of the swimmers will be relocating nearer to New York City for the last three stages. A chance, then to mention the role of the swimmers’ support teams.

The New York Open Water team of 8 Bridges takes care of safety of the swimmers during the race, but before, and after, and during the long months of training, support is the provenance of family and friends. Since there is no cheering section, other than a blast on the horn from Greg Porteous’ Launch 5, it is really important to know that someone will scoop you up and make you the priority when you finish the stage, and hopefully they will  celebrate your achievement too. There’s a great deal of texting, tweeting and Facebooking from swimmers when they land.

So here is a salute to those stoical individuals who remain on dock, who drive to the right place, who greet their swimmer with a warm drink. They hold towels to preserve what modesty the swimmer still cares about after 20 miles. They handle moods, calm anxieties and slather various unguents over the swimmer’s body. They too deserve our admiration.

Here are some supporters I have met during the week.

First of all, the magnificent Estela Toi, wife of Brazilian swimmer Flavio Toi. She provides support for her husband and all the other Brazilians, Harry Finger and Marta Izo. She is an ace driver and navigator, scopes out the right restaurants to stoke up with carbs, and she is also a physical trainer, ready to massage aching limbs and strap up injuries. Her and Flavio’s delightful son Tiago chooses the right music to energize us for each early morning drive.

Katrin Walter looks forward to the sight of Steffen Gruber. They are both here from Switzerland, and as well as supporting Katrin, Steffen is using the time to train for his own challenge – and Ironman triathlon in August.

Jamie Tout is welcomed by the serene presence of his wife Tina. She knows how to read his needs and ensures she is there at the finish.

Graco Morlan is supported by one of Mexico’s top swim couches, Jorge Villegas. Jorge is also volunteering on one of the RHIBs.

Stephen Rouch is accompanied each day by his father, Stephen Senior. The younger Stephen seems unusually self-possessed, needing assistance only with his daily covering with, and removal of, Butt Paste.

Roy Malinak is known as the rockstar of supporters. A rock indeed – his steadying arms, as swimmers climb aboard the boat, groping their way from horizontal to vertical, are the most reassuring sight of all.

The kayakers are a breed apart, supervised by Alex Arevelo. They have a long slog each day navigating from charts, and instructions from David Barra. They need to keep an exacting eye on the swimmers at all times during the swim, issue feeds on time, and encouragement. They often camp at the docking points and nobody knows how they manage to go to the bathroom during the race. It is a closely guarded secret.

The jet skis stand guard over the swimmers and act as outriders. Whenever another vessel, either sailboard or cement-laden river barge comes too close, the jetskis can move fast to put themselves between it and the swimmer. The can also speed over to the main Launch 5 to get hot drinks out to any kayaker, to deliver a warm boost to any swimmer suffering with the cold. They have rescue boards attached to the back, to allow swimmers to cling on and take a swift ride to shore or Launch 5.

The hypothermia support is very impressive. There have been just a couple of very cold swimmers who have been transferred aboard Launch 5. There is a warm wheelhouse to bring them into, and experienced staff to dress them and make sure they are responding to their care.

This is team work – organizers, volunteers and supporters both on land and on the water. All of them have these amazing swimmers as their focus.