Open water fever
Phoenix the dog paced the beach at the east end of Donner Lake in anxious anticipation, darting between the eight young swimmers as they reluctantly peeled off hooded sweatshirts in the biting morning shade.
“It’s so cold,” said one swimmer as she waded thigh-high into the glassy body of water. Others agreed.
Four members of the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team donned wetsuits for the occasion; four stood shivering without. A volunteer parent and his 7-year-old son floated by the idle group in a two-person support kayak, while another parent poked around the shallows on a paddleboard. Several swim team mothers watched from the beach.
Sarah Clement, an assistant coach with the Truckee Tahoe Swim Team, soon joined the pack as it set off for its 1.7-mile training swim ” an “out and back” to Poop Rock (some call it Bird Rock) following the Donner State Park shoreline.
Phoenix didn’t need an invitation. The “open water mascot,” a yellow Lab mix, knew the routine, which was established when Clement and five of her swimmers took to the lake for a morning swim this past Fourth of July.
“We called it our Firecracker Swim,” said Clement, playing off the name of the annual Firecracker Mile run in Truckee. “That kind of spawned it all.”
Tuesday’s open-water swimming session was about the 10th for the group, said Clement, who organizes the swims and has worked full-time with Truckee Tahoe Swim Team for about a year and a half.
“We’re going to try to continue,” she said. “We want to culminate with a swim across the lake. The kids want to do it. They’re all very enthusiastic about trying something new.”
The swim team athletes ” most of whom are between the ages of 11 and 14 ” gained inspiration to swim the lake in large part from watching the 28th annual Donner Lake Open Water Swim on Aug. 9, which measures 2.7 miles from start to finish.
“It’s going to be hard. It’s weird not being able to see the bottom,” said 14-year-old Molly Ingalls, a veteran of several triathlons who has yet to swim across Donner Lake. “I haven’t done it, but I really want to.”
Same goes for teammate Sarah Westmoreland, 14.
“I really want to swim across the lake, too,” Westmoreland said before dipping her toes into the lake. “Hopefully next week.”
One member of the team, 11-year-old Brittany Percin, swam across Donner Lake the day of the race, leaving 10 minutes after the official start because she was too young to compete.
“It was good. In the middle it started getting cold and wavy, and it didn’t help that I was pulling a balloon behind me,” said Percin, who said she completed the swim in about an hour and a half. The balloon was so Percin’s father, Mark ” who manned the support kayak Tuesday alongside Dan Ingalls on the paddleboard ” could locate her in the chop.
Clement said Percin is one of the top long-distance swimmers with TTST, having already completed the Donner Lake swim and with plans to compete in both the Whiskeytown Lake Open Water Swim on Sept. 7 and the Folsom Lake 1-Mile Swim on Sept. 27. She’s treating those races as preparation for the better-known Tiburon Mile in the San Francisco Bay on Oct. 5.
“I think the (Tiburon Mile) will be different than Donner Lake because it’s salty and a little more wavy. But it will be a challenge and should be fun,” Percin said, adding that she’d like to get more involved with open water swimming in the future.
“It’s just a different experience,” she said, comparing the discipline to pool swimming. “There’s no chlorine, and I like distance swimming more than sprints.”
Besides the above-mentioned TTST members, others in Tuesday’s group included Erika Klenk, Mackenzie and Kayla Redner, Kailee Bingham and Alex Davis. Sean Percin, 7, swam a portion of the distance.
They’re all considering competing in the Folsom Lake Swim, Clement said.
Brittanny Percin, who plans to swim the Tiburon Mile on Oct. 5, will be raising funds through the event for the Special Olympics. Stay tuned for more information as the race nears.