In September 2018, Brad Dress wrote an article about me being the oldest person ever to successfully complete the Boston Light Swim. Well, at 70 I am still at it. When COVID-19 closed all the pools in late March, I started swimming from my dock on Back Creek off the Bodkin in Pasadena. I have been swimming almost every day, towing a distinctively colored day-glow green buoy (named Winston) for safety. I imagine many folks along Back Creek wonder “Who is that guy?”
Above is my typical route, covering about three miles.
As a cold-water marathon swimmer, I do not use a wetsuit, so I held off until the water warmed to about 55 degrees for my first swim of the season on April 7, 2020. Even at 55 degrees, I could only go for a mile or so before my hands and feet became numb from the cold. Swimming in cold water is an exhilarating experience with some interesting physiological effects. Initially, your body responds to cold water with the “vasoconstrictor response,” which minimizes blood flow to the skin and extremities where heat is lost rapidly, thus preserving the body’s core temperature and delaying the onset of hypothermia. Once you stop swimming, the body restores blood flow to the previously restricted areas, causing something swimmers call “the drop” when core body temperature quickly drops a degree or two due to the cold blood that was hanging out in your extremities returning and cooling the core. The drop is characterized by uncontrolled shivering for 10 to 15 minutes. This is the least fun part of cold-water swimming, but the lingering tingling of the skin and euphoria from the experience more than make up for “the drop.”
My first swim in the Chesapeake Bay was in 1968 when, as a plebe at the U.S. Naval Academy, I was taken on a day sail to the Magothy River where we anchored, swam and enjoyed a picnic lunch — a memorably enjoyable day during a pretty grueling summer. After completing my commitment to the Navy, I returned to the area in 1980 and participated in the Bay Bridge swim as well as swims in the Choptank River and at Gunpowder Falls State Park. Following a 15-year absence while working in Georgia and Texas, I again returned to the area in 2003, continuing my bay swimming experience in the Patapsco, Magothy and Severn rivers.
In my experience, the local Chesapeake Bay waters have never been cleaner than they are now. The resurgence of fish species like shad, and the increasing numbers of dolphin visiting our waters speaks well for the health of the bay. As a swimmer, I would like to say thank you for those long-term efforts to improve the water quality. The improvement I have seen over the past 50-plus years is nothing short of remarkable.