Around And Around They Go In Atlantic City
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
For decades, the Atlantic City Around The Island Swim was a highlight on the annual professional marathon swimming circuit. The great marathon swimmers of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s races around Absecon Island in Atlantic City: half of the race was in the colder, rougher Atlantic Ocean; half of the race was in the warmer, calmer bay. “Swimmers were either too cold or too warm,” recalled Steven Munatones. “The race is a great marathon test with rough water turbulence, strong winds, and sometimes – or many times – angry ocean swells in the Atlantic and warm, flat water on the bay side of the island – between two inlets where swimmers fight hard against currents.”
Two local lifeguards, Ed Solitare and Ed “Dutch” Stetser, first accomplished the feat by completing a 37 km circumnavigation swim around Absecon Island after a US$100 bet made in 1953. The first race, masterminded by Jim Toomey, in 1954 was won by International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmer Tom Park.
Over the decades, other Hall of Famers from Greta Andersen to Paul Asmuth won the event. Former American president Donald Trump sponsored the event (see history here). The Trump Marina was site of the finish of the 1989 Around the Island Swim when the Trump Marina and other casinos in Atlantic City donated funds for the prize money in the 1980s. During the 1989 race won by David Alleva in 8 hours 5 minutes over Asmuth and Robert Schmidt, 24 athletes also swam past the Trump Princess. Trump came down to shake the hands of the winners and hand out the prize money.
The historic race was last held in 2006, but the renowned race was brought back in July 2019.
Robin Taylor explains, “It is with great pleasure that Green Whales Inc., with the blessing and support of the Whelan family, City of Atlantic City, local police and fire/rescue departments, the Atlantic City Board of Education, USA Swimming, the local beach patrols in the cities of Ventnor, Margate, and Longport, announces that we are bringing the Around the Island Marathon back to Atlantic City and the surrounding waters to honor the late Jim Whelan.”
Whelan was a local politician, teacher, lifeguard, race director, and open water swimmer and served as the Mayor of Atlantic City. He received the 1999 Gold Medallion from the International Swimming Hall of Fame and was inducted as an Honour Administrator of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in the Class of 2001.
Taylor describes the purpose of the race’s renewal. “The Jim Whelan Open Water Festival supports the Whelan’s Whales swim lesson and water safety programs. The inaugural event offered 400m, 2 km and 36.62 km Around the Island Marathon races.
The 2nd annual Jim Whelan Open Water Festival features 18 solo swimmers and relay competing in the 55th Around the Island Swim that will be held on August 1st. Like the former professional marathon swimmers a half century ago, the swimmers will compete for a US$10,500 purse.
Sari Carroll who has put in countless hours in organizing the event said, “We are so excited to be able to hold the race this year, and even more excited to have these incredible athletes participate. Many have told me that swimming in the Around the Island is part of their bucket list of races to compete in. We are proud to help make that dream a reality.”
- Ruch Gilgenbach of New Jersey
- Kathleen Wilson of South Carolina
- John Zeigler of Pennsylvania
- Ned Denison of Ireland
- Eric Schall of Pennsylvania
- Mark Quinn of Delaware
- Greg O’Connor of Massachusetts
- Samir Barel of Brazil
- Eric Tucker of New Jersey
- Robert Gatto of New Jersey
- David Shackley of Virginia
- Seth Baetzold of Minnesota
- Andrew Wallace of New Jersey
- Colum Lavelle of Illinois
- SOFA Queens & Kings relay
- SRVA Hammerheads relay
- For the Love of Swimming relay
- Team Ringoes relay
All proceeds benefit Green Whales, Inc., a non-profit that supports children’s swimming programs in Atlantic County.
For more information, visit www.jwopenwater.org.
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