Donner Lake Swim to fill to its brim | SierraSun.com

Donner Lake Swim to fill to its brim

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

File photo/Emma GarrardSwimmers stand in the water before the start of the Donner Lake Open Water Swim last year. This year's 28th annual race should see a maxed-out field of 350 swimmers.

The 28th annual Donner Lake Open Water Swim has shaped into a two-pronged race.

Saturday morning at 8:30, race director Laura Hanson expects a field of 350 swimmers to churn the water in a mass start at the east end of the lake. Nothing new there.

Two hours prior, however, Hanson anticipates a hotly contested race for the final 15 entries.

“It will fill. Registration opens at 6:30 for those last 15 spots, and it’s first come first serve,” she said, explaining that 335 swimmers signed up before the pre-registration deadline.

That number already exceeds last year’s total of 312, which grew from 270 swimmers in 2006.

“With the shape of the economy,” Hanson said she is surprised so many swimmers are planning to compete. But then again, the event is set to make its Olympic debut in Beijing in less than two weeks ” a 10-kilometer open water swim on Aug. 20-21.

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On Saturday, swimmers will start at the east end of Donner Lake and finish 2.7 miles later at West End Beach. From a land-bound perspective, Hanson said the hectic jostling at the onset is most entertaining to watch.

“My favorite part of the swim is when the race starts. People are standing around chit-chatting, and then once they hit the water, all you can hear is arms slapping water,” said Hanson, who has served as race director since 2004.

Truckee swimmer Rob Burks, 37, also enjoys the crowded start, despite the inherent dangers amid the whirlwind of limbs.

“I like it,” he said. “It’s a mass start, but it’s a pretty wide beach at the east end. I don’t remember ever getting elbowed in the face or anything. Now, if you start in the middle, you’re asking to get elbowed in the face. But I think the more people, the better it is.”

All entrants must be members of United States Masters Swimming, and they must finish within the two-and-a-half-hour cutoff. Burks, a member of the Truckee Tahoe Aquatic Masters, finished last year in about an hour and 10 minutes. He hopes to shave off at least four minutes this year.

“If I can go under 1:06 I’ll be happy,” said Burks, who’s set to compete for the third time. “But you have to go well under an hour to win the race. There’s women who are blazing fast, too. I can’t keep up with them. I have no expectations of winning.”

Especially against the likes of two-time defending champ Erik Scalise of Reno, who swam to a first-place finish last year with a time of 54:42. While Scalise is returning to defend yet again, last year’s winner on the women’s side, Susan Preston, who posted a time of 55:23, did not pre-register, Hanson said.

The course record is 50:29, set in 1988.

Another member of Truckee Tahoe Aquatics Masters, Karen Rogers of Tahoe City, said she’d also like to improve on her time last year, when she competed while feeling ill. Still, she finished in about an hour and 10 minutes.

“I’m hoping I’ll have more energy this year,” Rogers said. “My main goal is just to go out and have a good time, but I’m a competitive person, so we’ll see.”

She has the training part down. Rogers said she has been swimming eight to 12 miles every Saturday, as well as two to four miles “once or twice a day, four or five days a week.”

“She’s crazy,” Burks said jokingly.

Some might agree, as Rogers ” who said she considers 2.7 miles a sprint ” is hoping for a windy day, while most swimmers fear just that.

“I would actually, honestly, prefer a windy, cloudy day. I’d feel like I had such an advantage over everybody,” said Rogers, who plans to swim the width of Lake Tahoe the following weekend and the English Channel within five years.

“We local swimmers have such a homefield advantage,” she said.

When: Saturday, 8:30 a.m.

Registration: 6:30 p.m. (15 spots left)

Start: East end of Donner Lake

Finish: West End Beach

Distance: 2.7 miles

Cutoff time: 2 1/2 hours

Capacity: 350 swimmers

Course record: 50:29 (1988)

Last year’s winning time: 54:42