What motivates swimmers to take part in 8 Bridges?

By Liz Morrish

It is 6.45am and swimmers, volunteers, boaters and organisers are assembling at Dutchman’s Landing, Catskill New York. Many of us haven’t met before, but it seems already as if people are gelling into their assigned roles.

This is the meaning of team work and it is the swimmers who are at the centre of this event. Everybody is here to make sure that they swim their swim. This explains why all the volunteers are here, but why did the swimmers themselves choose to participate in this particular event?

The scale of the challenge was an obvious factor, with several swimmers having done Channel swims or other marathon swims, and looking for another testing event. It is also clear that the Mighty Hudson itself is a huge part of the attraction.

“I have raced a lot in the Hudson and I have a deep affinity with the river,” wrote Mark Spratt.

Susan Kirk is in awe of the river, “Swimming in the Mighty Hudson is an amazing privilege, experience, and challenge! Sometimes she does not play nice and denies you a finish.”

“It is a unique event in the beautiful Hudson River with so many amazing swim friends!” says Kimberly Plewa.

Mina Elnaccash is lyrical about the Hudson:

“I grew up in Westchester County, near the Hudson River, and now my brothers reside in the Hudson Valley. Living in the Boston area I miss NY sometimes, so it’s a bit of a homecoming every time I visit. I have fond memories of sitting by a Hudson Line train station watching the lightning in the rainstorms traveling up and down the river between us and the city – you could always see the storm in the distance even when it was nearly 30 miles away. The river seemed so massive and intimidating then. Swimming seems to make all those points on the water a little closer together.”

Ed Riley summarizes, “it’s the gold standard for marathon swimming. it not only measures your endurance but also speed and uniquely your recovery.”

Bob Heiss probably speaks for everyone as he feels challenge, friendship, camaraderie and scenery all play a part.

“For me, swimming is a lifestyle. I love the challenge of a tough swim and the preparation and training necessary to do well. I feel part of the swimming community and have developed many close friendships through the years. Several of my friends are participating in various stages of the 8 Bridges this year, so camaraderie is a strong motivator. Stage 6 is a beautiful part of the Hudson, a scene I see daily, and I want to be a part of it. Finally, in the words of George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, “Because it’s there.”

It is clear that considerable lustre has attached itself, with justification, to the reputations of the organisers, Rondi Davies and David Barra.

“Such an amazing event, so well organized and distinctive, Rondi and David are top quality people,” was a frequent comment.

Rondi and David’s reputations rest not only on their legendary organisational abilities, but also on their own inspirational performances in marathon swimming. Rondi delivered a time of 5:44:47 in a 2011 round-Manhattan swim, and also completed all 7 stages of 8 Bridges in 2012. David Barra has accomplished the triple crown of marathon swimming, (Catalina Channel, English Channel and Round-Manhattan swims). He completed the 20-mile Provincetown to Plymouth swim in Massachusetts and the 25-mile In Search of Memphre, a cross-border swim from Vermont (USA) to Quebec (Canada), In 2015, Barra completed a 38-mile crossing of Cayuga Lake in New York in 23 hours 26 minutes. In 2017, he was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

This is season 7 of 8 Bridges, and under Rondi and David’s guidance, everybody is in good hands with a prospect of a truly memorable swim.