What could be more fun than swimming around Manhattan Island? Doing it backwards, according to Rondi Davies, the new record holder for the Reverse 20 Bridges Swim.
The Reverse 20 Bridges Swim is a swim around Manhattan Island in the clockwise direction of the traditional 20 Bridges Swim. The swim spans three bodies of water and totals 28.5 miles. The swim begins with an incoming flood current in the Hudson River at the southern tip of Manhattan before transitioning into a challenging ebb current in the Harlem River. The swim concluded with an eight-mile swim through another fast ebb current in the East River.
Inspired by Elizabeth Fry’s 2009 Reverse 20 Bridges Swim record, Davies set her sights on attempting the swim herself. According to the World Open Water Swimming Association, Davies’ time of 11:00:17 clocked in as a new course record, beating the previous record by almost 44 minutes.
The Reverse 20 Bridges Swim poses an extra challenge for its swimmers. Davies had to swim against a very fast ebb current in the Harlem River, strategically swimming along the seawall in order to avoid the brunt of the faster water. However, each of the river’s 15 bridges posed a unique challenge to Davies, the narrow spaces created by the bridges’ stanchions providing a passage for fast currents, “… the challenge was to break through these rapid currents and find lees and eddies on the other side of the bridge before encountering the next bridge challenge. Each bridge was a puzzle to solve.”
Davies is a parent first and a swimmer second, so finding time to train has been difficult. However, she still managed to achieve her goal of completing the swim, “The hard part was finding time to train amongst a busy life that includes having a job and young children.”
As for what one thinks about during 11 hours in the water, Davies said her thoughts were very mundane because she was so comfortable with the water temperature and her surrounding crew, “I was happy [that] my goggles weren’t fogging up, and I was also counting of the landmarks and calculating if I was on pace.”
Davies’ crew consisted of two boaters, one crew person, one observer and two kayakers, as well as a friend on a paddleboard. Her main supporters, however, were her husband and children, who cheered for her from Randall’s Island 9 hours into her swim, “… I couldn’t contemplate getting out of the water until I saw them. My crews vast experience and incredible support is the reason this day was so fun, relaxed, a wonderful experience, and ultimately a success. I am so grateful to them. They are my heroes.”
Davies creates models for swimmers who participate in the traditional 20 Bridges Swim, so modelling the reverse swim was a special experience. Swimming the Reverse 20 Bridges Swim in record time pushed Davies outside of her comfort zone, a process that, while challenging, was remarkably rewarding, “My longest swim to date was 8.5 hours so I was happy to stretch that to 11 hours. I have also never had to swim against currents like that. It was a lot of fun modelling this swim for the first time. There’s definitely room for improvement.”