Swimming the distance | SierraSun.com

Swimming the distance

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA swimmer trains at Donner on Lake Thursday morning, perhaps preparing for the 27th annual Donner Lake Open Water Swim on Saturday. The race starts at the east end of the lake at 8:30 a.m. and finishes 2.7 miles later at West End Beach.

Boaters beware: That phalanx of swimmers you’re sure to see splashing in the distance Saturday morning is not a mirage; it’s a mass of 300 athletes competing in the 27th annual Donner Lake Open Water Swim.

“I can’t believe we’re going to have 300 swimmers in the water,” said Laura Hanson, race director for the event and a member of the Reno-based Sierra Nevada Masters, which puts on the race.

Last year, Hanson said, nearly 270 swimmers attempted the 2.7-mile swim from the east side of Donner Lake to West End Beach. As of Wednesday night, 270 swimmers had already committed, and Hanson expects race-day registrants to fill out the maximum of 300.

All entrants must be members of United States Masters Swimming, and they must finish within the two-and-a-half-hour cutoff.

Last year’s male and female winners, Erik Scalise and Lisa Hazen, reached the finish line at West End Beach in 57:25 and 59:22.

The majority of the competition comes from the Bay Area, Hanson said, and a good percentage make the annual trip up from Reno. Usually a small contingent of Truckee-Tahoe area swimmers enter, she said.

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Peter Morris of Tahoe City is part of that local corps. Saturday will mark his sixth or seventh Donner Lake Open Water Swim, he said.

“Personally, I think it’s a wonderful race,” Morris said. “It’s very unique in the world of open water swimming because you actually go somewhere,” instead of swimming around a buoyed course, like most open water swims, he added.

Morris thinks his best time was 1 hour, 10 minutes, although last year he finished the swim in 1:26 after struggling through severe cramps.

“This year I’m going to wear a wetsuit, so I’m cheating ” and I consider it cheating,” he said. “Wearing a wetsuit is a distinct advantage. I’m going over to the dark side.”

Wearing a wetsuit is, in fact, cheating, according to race regulations, which states that “The use of neoprene wetsuits or other nonporous attire shall render a swimmer ineligible for awards.”

As long as he doesn’t cramp up like last year, Morris is fine with that.

“It’s more about doing it,” he said. “I compete against myself.”

Truckee’s Natalie de Ryke will be racing in the Donner Lake Open Water Swim for the first time in 14 years.

“I ended up having kids and had an excuse,” she explained of her extended absence from the competition.

Asked what she remembers most from that race 14 years ago ” she also competed once before that ” de Ryke said, “It’s long. There were white caps and it was very long and very brutal. If that happens this year, I’ll just get out.”

Her goal is to finish in less than two hours.

Karen Rogers of Sunnyside will compete in the event for the first time in eight years. In two or three attempts, she said, she thinks her personal-best time was 1:06.

“I’m shooting for 1:10 this year,” Rogers said. “I’d like to finish in the top 20 (women) overall, but we’ll see.”

Truckee’s Rob Burks, who dove into a frigid Lake Tahoe the past two winters during the annual Polar Bear Swim, figures fit to take on the relatively tepid water of Donner Lake (Donner’s water temperature is part of what makes the swim so difficult for most, Hanson said.) Plus, in his first attempt at the swim last summer, he finished in a respectable 1 hour, 16 minutes.

“It was fun,” he said of the race. “Last year I didn’t train as much, so it was a little intimidating.”

Burks said he’ll be satisfied with his effort if he tops his previous time by a few minutes.

Also competing in the Donner Lake Open Water Swim for the second time in as many years is Jen Valosek of Truckee. She finished in 1:34 in her first attempt.

“I just remember being very nervous last year,” Valosek said. “Hopefully I’m in better shape this year. My goal is an hour and 20 minutes.”

Said Morris: “All we can ask for is no wind. Wind makes it miserable.”