Age-group records plunge at Donner Lake Swim |

Age-group records plunge at Donner Lake Swim

There was a slight headwind. Waves developed near the finish. Waterskiers and jet skis came close enough to the field to raise the ire of the Nevada County boating sheriff on hand.

Despite the less than ideal conditions, however, Palo Alto’s Matt O’Mara and Menlo Park’s Susan Preston turned in the second-fastest men’s and women’s times in history and six age division records were established Saturday as 281 swimmers completed the 18th annual 2.7-mile Donner Lake Swim.

Age-group records were set by Darryl Johnson (54:39.3) in the men’s 30-34 division, Susan Preston (55:48.4) in the women’s 35-39 division, Sandy MacDonald (55:36.8) in the men’s 40-44 division, Celeste Miller (1:02:17.1) in the women’s 45-49 division, Sally Dillon (1:11:31.8) in the women’s 50-54 division and Don Brown (1:09:12.3) in the men’s 60-64 division.

About the only division titlist who wasn’t able to break a record was overall men’s winner O’Mara, 20, who finished in 51:32, slightly one minute off Keith Frostad’s division – and all-time Donner Lake Swim – record of 50:29.

“I don’t know if I could’ve swam much faster,” O’Mara said. “The waves were tough at the end.”

O’Mara, a Reno resident who swims for Stanford University and placed within the top-16 at both the 1,500-meter and 800-meter swims at the national championships, said his strategy included avoiding the massive pack in the center of the lake. This was O’Mara’s first Donner Lake Swim.

“I swam hard at the beginning of the race, just so I wouldn’t get caught in the pack,” said O’Mara, who began swimming near the south shore of Donner Lake and gradually veered toward the center of the water. “After the start, I was just trying to follow my kayakers and swim as straight as possible for the finish.”

By the one-mile point, O’Mara had opened a 200-meter lead on the chase pack which included eventual women’s winner Preston. By the finish, O’Mara had a more than three-minute lead on second-place finisher Darryl Johnson, 34, of Sacramento, the 1996 Donner Lake Swim champion.

“Even though I was pretty far behind Matt, it was still a good swim for me,” Johnson said. “I think I swam about one and a half minutes faster today than when I won the race last year.”

Preston, 35, who lives in Menlo Park and swims for the Stanford Masters Swim Club, surprised spectators on West End Beach when she emerged as the fifth overall swimmer out of the water. She finished in 55:48, just 34 seconds behind Elizabeth Cunha’s all-time women’s record of 55:14 set in 1986.

“I just wanted to go out and do well – I’m ‘old’ compared to a lot of these swimmers,” Preston said.

Preston, who had never previously attempted the Donner Lake Swim, said she competed in the race based on recommendations from several of her swimming friends.

“This has been my year to do new events,” Preston said. “Other people on the Stanford Masters were always talking about the race, so I decided to do it this year.”

Preston said the 70 degree Donner Lake water made for a much more enjoyable race than another “new” race she attempted earlier this year, the Trans-Tahoe Swim Race held in Lake Tahoe.

“It wasn’t nearly as cold as the Trans-Tahoe race,” Preston said. “I loved the course because it was a straight shot across the lake. I’ll be back to do it again next year.”

Jim Barkman, 34, took third in the race with the time of 55:35. The real news, however, was that Barkman had traveled from Alaska to participate in the race.

“I come down each summer to swim in the races in the area,” Barkman said. “I really enjoy having so many people competing in and watching the race.”

Barkman said there aren’t many places in Alaska to train for an open water swim.

“I did a lot of laps in a 25-yard pool,” Barkman said.

Nancy Rose, 35, who doubled as the race’s director, was the first Truckee finisher in 59:52. She took fourth place in the women’s 35-39 age division. That division was perhaps the most competitive division of the day, as the three women ahead of Rose (Preston, Laurie Vidal and Joan Smith) broke the existing age-group record of 59:40.

Other Truckee finishers included Bill Aaron (143rd, 1:19:12), Ed Coleman (184th, 1:25:26), Lori Belden (233rd, 1:37:10) and Janet Brady (254th, 1:46:47).

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