In Part Two, I raised a question, a question that over-shadows much of the discussion of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and so needs to remain to the front.
What is the significant entry fee ($2150) per swimmer actually for, if not for a boat per swimmer? Why does the entire fee have to be paid in advance the previous year, if NYCSwim has not been allocating part of it to ensure a boat per swimmer? I know that swimmers believe they are paying for a service that includes boat support.
NYCSwims’s Response to Water Contamination
One part of NYCSwim’s three-fold Mission Statement is “creating stakeholders with a vested interest in the local waters“.
The first line on NYCSwim.org’s page on water quality reads: “The water quality of the Hudson, East and Harlem rivers is fine“.
This is a general assertion, and it’s likely true much of the time. But the water around Manhattan on the day of MIMS 2013 was badly contaminated by over ten centimetres (four inches) of rain of the previous day, Saturday July 7th by run-off and overflowing sewage. Contaminated water is always a factor for MIMS. The organisation has an advisory that swimmers should get Hepatitis and Tetanus vaccines, which is great advice. Allegedly, the organisation introduced a policy in 2006, based on previous experience of the race being cancelled in 2005 over water contamination issues, and according to comments on the marathonswimmers.org forum, that should water contamination exceed safe levels the swimmers would be told before the swim and the decision to swim left to them. This didn’t happen. If as has been asserted that this is a NYCSwim policy, which isn’t outlined on the website that I could see, then NYCSwim would have violated its own rules. Surely swimmers in MIMS would be amongst the most vested-interest stakeholders that MIMS mentions in its Mission Statement.
One swimmer told me: “Swimmers were told after the event (at award ceremony) that numerous agencies did not want the event to go ahead“.
MIMS swimmers, marathon open water swimmers, are in the main less concerned by these issues than the general public (as any MIMS swimmer will tell you of the many times they’ve been asked if they knew the water was dirty). But that doesn’t mean swimmers are completely unconcerned or don’t want all the relevant information. Not every swimmer has the same health or immunity or preferences. Another swimmer has said they believed most swimmers were aware that of water contamination issues prior to the start. Levels of post-swim illness certainly seemed significant across the entire entry field this year. One participant has written that another swimmer was hospitalised after the swim. I wondered last year why MIMS can’t simply collate the information of sickness from each year’s swimmers, as Ireland’s Lee Swim requests from over 300 swimmers. I still wonder.
Another situation that arose as a result of NYCSwim’s ad-hoc approach to ensuring a sufficient supply of boats is that swimmers were asked if they would consider sharing a pilot boat with another swimmer. Should they so do, they would be given a refund of a portion of the entry fee.
Swimmers who agreed to share a boat were told they would receive a $400 refund. But at least one swimmer who did share a boat, only received a refund of $200, less than 10% of the entry fee and half what that swimmer and at least one other swimmer believed NYCSwim had said, that the refund would be $400 per person sharing a boat, NOT per boat. This fractional refund and confusion over such seems mealy-mouthed.
What would have happened at MIMS 2013 had none of the swimmers agreed to share a boat? This question is a corollary of the lack of boats, and one that would worry me if I were a prospective MIMS swimmer.
Amongst those swimmers who did take the option of a shared boat, (which is a possibility any swimmer might have taken to allow other friends to be able to participate), they were sometimes paired with swimmers of significantly mismatched speed, which could be put down to this being a last-minute decision.
A pre-swim risk assessment, based on the now-known fact that NYCSwim didn’t have a plan to ensure boats for every swimmer, should have included this possibility, and more closely matched swimmer speeds. Some swimmers on shared boats, though they all had individual kayakers, of whom reports and my own experience are universally excellent, were without boat support for sometimes an hour at a time. Kayaker support for swimmers in MIMS is voluntary.
Everyone loves to see speed records and fast swimmers and great races. But it’s the majority of average swimmers that pay the majority of the funds, that make up the majority of any event, we are the cannon fodder. Our sport is unusual in that speed isn’t everything. We celebrate toughness, individuality, endurance and resilience just as much as speed.
It’s true that I’ve covered both speed and endurance on loneswimmer.com, because I believe that I both love and appreciate the full spectrum of the sport. I have many friends covering literally the entire spectrum of swim speed, from Trent to Jackie. But I’d freely admit to having greater personal appreciation for the slower or average swimmers, and those who swim with little chance of medals or glory other than completion, who swim for personal achievement, or the Jackie Cobells, Wendy Trehiou’s and Stephen Redmonds of the sport, who demonstrate that greatness can be achieved in ways other than speed.
I believe that it is the triumph of the ordinary and average person that makes marathon swimming so fascinating and compelling. Our sport is built on a foundation of toughness and determination, of an overwhelming inexplicable desire to participate, to overcome, to finish.
Everyone should understand that there is no speed record in the world that can substitute for overcoming the odds, for being tested and prevailing, for getting there using your own arms … for just standing up at the end.
In Part Four I will look at swimmer control and some miscellaneous items before moving to a conclusion and recommendations in Part 5.
- MIMS 2013 – Part 1 – An outsider’s opinion – Introduction (loneswimmer.com)
- MIMS 2013 – Part 2 – An outsider’s opinion – Start timing & boat availability (loneswimmer.com)
- HOW TO: The greatest sport on Earth. Follow a swim during Channel season (loneswimmer.com)