By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – You might say the competitors lapped up the challenge: to swim a mile-long course beginning and returning to the shoreline of Compo Beach.
That was the aim early Sunday morning when approximately 175 people registered for the 33rd Annual Point to Point Compo Beach Swim. Conducted as it has been since inception near the landmark cannons, the Westport / Weston Family Y-sponsored event attracted participants ranging from age 10 to 73 and offered imprinted glass mugs as prizes for the top three finishers in 14 different age classifications. The fastest finishers by gender -- Trevor Healy, 22, with a time of 15:15 and Molly Loftus, 16, at 17:09 – were also called out.
The current iteration of the race was created in 1979 by Bob Knoeble, the former Senior Director of Aquatics at the Y. “It was just for fun initially,” said Jackie Tumminia, the current Senior Director of Aquatics, “but then turned into a fundraiser just last year, benefiting the whole community.”
The race features three heats, with roughly 60 swimmers per heat. Swim caps – light blue, white and yellow – identify the heats. Participants are required to circle two buoys placed about a half mile offshore. There are no eligibility requirements with regard to time or ability. “If you’ve got the gumption, you’re in,” said VP of Y Operations David Cohen.
Rob Reeves, the Y’s CEO, said the swim was one of the few fundraising events the non-profit produces that allows the organization to reach out to the public. “It puts a face to the Y and attracts many people from the community as both swimmers and spectators,” he said.
Reeves added that the Y’s program has produced an incredible crop of swimmers over the years, including current star Nathaniel Boley, 16. “He’s an example of one of our most dedicated swimmers,” Reeves said. “He’s a true water rat who has participated in our programming since he was six months old.”
Boley swam in the Point to Point for the first time last year. “It’s a good chance for kids in the Y swim program to have some fun and do something different,” Boley said.
Fellow “rat” and female race winner Loftus, said, “We rats have a close connection because we understand what everybody goes through. We spend up to five hours together every day. We work really hard in the program. This event allows us to have a little more fun. That’s not to say we won’t try to beat each other. But it’s not an obligation.”
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, 72-year-old Westporter Larry Weisman, said, “My wife Mary-Lou, who’s 73, and I, have been doing this for 17 years. We look forward to, well, really, just finishing. By the time I come in, the winner is already in, showered and dressed! The usual winning time is about 18 minutes, I think – I finish in about 45 minutes. This is a big community thing and grows every year. When I first swam it, there was just one heat, now there are three. It’s great fun with a lot of camaraderie. Ten to 15 swimmers here are competitive; the rest of us are just trying to survive.”
Another “old-timer” was Mike Laux, 69. His recollections of the race harkened back to 1970, when the event began as the Cross Harbor Swim. “It ran like that for three to four years. You went to Longshore, got on a boat to Cokenoe Island and you swam back, about a mile. The event dropped for a while due to risks and boat traffic, then Bob Knoeble reinstated it. I’ve been swimming this event the whole time. It’s a Westport tradition and people come from all over to participate.”
Falling right in the middle-age range, P.J. Clyne, 45, of Fairfield, said the race is a great warm-up to the Swim Across the Sound. He has participated in both races for the past seven years. “I first got involved in competitive swimming when a Fairfield Y friend couldn’t compete due to a shoulder injury and I became a stand-in. Swimming is a good, low-impact sport to keep you in shape all year.”
The only concern Westporter Sam Leaf had about competing was a Man o’ War seen floating near the finish area. “In years past, there’s been a lot of jellyfish. Hopefully not this year,” he said.
Continuing a family tradition but this year swimming for a much more sobering purpose was Simsbury resident Paul Epstein, 62, a former Westporter who was a lifeguard at Compo back in 1963. “I’m swimming in honor of my daughter Serena, who took her life last Friday after leaving the Institute of Living treatment program. She was only 27. She used to come here with me to the meets.”
Post-race, as all the swimmers milled about, dried off and chattered about the challenge, race winner Healy, a New Canaan resident, said, “I saw a bunch of good swimmers out there. I thought I’d need to try hard. I worked hard to beat them. I was right with the guy who finished in second (Boley) until the last buoy. I usually wait until that time to put in the kick and sprint to the finish.”