Let’s face it. For those who are ready to throw the cover on the backyard pool when the water temperature dips into the 70s, the thought of jumping into choppy, 60-degree ocean water isn’t all that appealing.
Hardy souls like former Lynn City Swimmer of the Year Katelyn Kidney see things differently. The 2010 Classical High graduate traded in the calm and relatively warm water of the indoor pools she was accustomed to competing in for the high seas.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth last year, Kidney took up open-water swimming and on Aug. 15, she and the three other members of a team called Beer Gutz and Coconutz finished first (3:05.11) in the relay division of the eight-mile Boston Light Swim. The race begins in the water at the foot of the historic Boston Lighthouse on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor and ends at the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston. The race bills itself as “The Granddaddy of American Open-Water Swims.”
Kidney’s relay teammates were Sean Barrow of Swampscott, Lidia MacDonald-Carr of Ipswich and Tommy Gainer of Swampscott. Gainer, Kidney said, is training to swim the English Channel in 2017.
Kidney started swimming competitively at the age of three. She was a member of the YMCA of the North Shore Sharks and by the time she left Lynn Classical, she had established herself as the top female swimmer in the city, earning the Lynn (female) Swimmer of the Year honors four times. She was also the Northeastern Conference female Swimmer of the Year as a senior. Her city record in the girls’ 200 free still stands, as does her record in the 200 butterfly in college. At UMass Dartmouth, she won the New England Championship in the 200 butterfly (Division III).
So what appealed to Kidney about open-water swimming as opposed the pool?
After wrapping up her college swimming career, Kidney joined the YMCA of the North Shore masters swim team.
“I kind of joined it just to stay in shape,” she said, adding that her teammates tended to be older and a number of them were into open-water swimming.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Kidney said. “It’s different than swimming in a pool. The conditions are unpredictable. It’s much colder and there’s way more to look at.”
Kidney said as far as the training goes, she does a combination of swimming in a pool and in the ocean. The ocean training might include either a course that goes along Devereaux Beach in Marblehead and up along the Neck or a four-mile loop that goes from Phillips Beach in Swampscott to Devereaux and back. Kidney said the coldest water she has trained it without a wetsuit was about 57 degrees. The warmest tops out around 68-69 degrees.
“Your body adjusts,” she said.
As far as the mental aspect of wondering what kind of sea life you’re swimming with, Kidney prefers not to think too much about that aspect of ocean swimming.
“What kind of helps me get over that is never swimming alone. In my head I think it’s safer,” she joked. “I swam through a couple of jelly fish in Boston Harbor and I’ve seen a couple of crabs, but nothing too crazy. I’m also just swimming along the coast, like 25-yards out.”
When it comes to swims like the Boston Light, there are also support boats that accompany the swimmer, providing a little more sense of safety, she said.
Kidney competed in her fourth open swim, a 5K in Salem, last weekend. She finished second in her age group. Earlier this summer she did an open swim at Sebago Lake and finished first in the women’s division. She’ll tackle her longest distance to date on Sept. 20 when she competes in a 10.6k Merrimack River swim.
“It’s a different kind of race,” Kidney said about open-water competition. “There are different expectations. Sometimes just finishing is more of an achievement than anything.”
Kidney, 22, recently started a new job as an applied behavior analyst at a private school in Andover. She’ll also be going back to school full time to obtain her master’s degree with the goal of working as a school adjustment counselor.