Dozens compete in inaugural 'Swim Around Lido Key'
By Katy Bergen
Published: Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 10:35 p.m.
A world-ranked masters swimmer battled a 16- year-old high school student Sunday to become the first champion of the new “Swim Around Lido Key” race, a 7-mile loop around this scenic barrier island.
When Ricardo Valdivia, of Gulliver Swim Club in Miami, rounded the final jetty and swam toward the finish line, beachgoers and spectators on the sand at North Lido cheered for the 50-year-old winner of a race hosted by local swimmers.
Fitzhugh Rawls, 16, took second in the race, finishing two minutes behind Valdivia with a time of 2:29.37. Former collegiate distance swimmer Heather Roka, 28, was the first overall female.
“The conditions today were perfect,” said Roka, who swims in Fort Myers. “The sun was out and the current was helping you most of the way. Probably the most challenging part was that final push through the channel — you were so close to the end but you felt like you'd never get there.”
Roka finished the course — which took swimmers from North Lido Beach through New Pass and around the island through the south inlet — with a time of 2:50.23. About 100 swimmers participated in the Swim Around Lido Key, organized by codirectors David Miner, a coach for the Sarasota Y Shark Masters Swim Team, and Steve Butler, the race director behind the Siesta Key Triathlon and other local races.
“It's a brand-new event for Sarasota,” Miner said. “We have 16 states, and representatives from Canada and Puerto Rico.”
Those who swam the 7 miles solo were accompanied Sunday by a kayak team, who could give the swimmer food and nutrition as long as he or she didn't touch the boat. There were 30 additional relay entries, where two swimmers alternated between kayaking and swimming.
Madeline Rawls and Katie Taulbee, both 14, defeated a male duo to become the relay champions. The friends both swim for the Academy Aquatic Club in Tampa, and worked out an effective switch-off strategy. The kayaker blew a whistle once, and the swimmer would sprint until she heard a second whistle. That meant the kayaker was jumping out to swim and the swimmer needed to grab the kayak and catch up.“We had an idea of where we were going to stop and switch,” said Rawls, whose father Thomas also swam the race in addition to brother Fitzhugh. “It helped a lot and we were able to get ahead.”
Another relay entry was Robert Katz, 50, and his 13-year-old daughter, Lana. Lana has completed Tropical Splash in Siesta Key for the past several years. But she has always finished the 1K or 2.5K course, she said, and she's always had her father with her.
She was nervous for that first race because she couldn't see the bottom, and because sometimes she veered off toward the horizon until her Dad kept her on course. She likes having him nearby.
“I always like swimming with my Dad, and it's something my siblings don't like to do, so I get to spend time with him,” Lana said. Head to Siesta Key early on a Saturday morning and you'll find them, a gathering of open water swimmers, mostly from the Sarasota Sharks Masters program, who work out together throughout the year.
Swim Around Lido Key was born here, Miner said, as a group of friends kicked around a new idea — a race with more distance and a different course for swimmers accustomed to the Tropical Splash swims held each October on Siesta Key. A team member drew up a rough map of a trek around Lido.
Miner and Butler decided to make it a reality, and started major planning last fall. Miner said he was pleased by the interest both near and far. “There is a big contingent from Florida,” he said. “The feedback has been great. People want these events, even if they aren't willing or able to put it together.”
For Linda Hargreaves, the Swim Around Lido Key was a family affair. Her husband, David, drove one of the pilot boats, and daughter Rebecca piloted her kayak while other daughter, Debbie, worked in the volunteer tent.
Hargreaves, 57, started open water swimming in her native England as a teenager. By the time she was in high school, she says, she was more successful in open water races than in the pool. And she was able to represent Great Britain in open water competitions.
When she moved to Sarasota years later she started swimming with the Sarasota Sharks open water group. She's competed frequently but, she admitted last week, she hasn't attempted seven miles in a long time, though she is training to swim the English Channel with a relay this summer.
Her interest was piqued late last year as Sarasota swimmers spread word about the race. Then she learned about the course — the first turn would cut right in front of her home off New Pass.
“I thought, 'Oh my God,' ” she said. “I have to do this.”
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