Planning And Preparations For A Long Open Water Swim

Planning And Preparations For A Long Open Water Swim

The myriad logistics, financial preparations and contingency plans that go into such swims as the Camlough World Record Relay in Ireland, the Lake Taupo World Record Relay and the Extreme Dream are nothing but staggering. Swimmers, coaches, pilots, support crew and volunteers put their lives on hold to help open water swimmers realize their dreams.

Vito Bialla and the Night Train Swimmers will head off to Lake Powell, Arizona for their third attempt at breaking the six-person non-stop world open water swimming relay. The Daily News of Open Water Swimming looked into the preparations that go behind these swims.

Daily News: When planning for such a long-distance relay, what did you look for in a venue?
Vito: The swimmer’s ability to complete the event, the possibility of winds, the expected water temperatures, the phase of the moon and the effect of the tides, the local community and about a hundred other elements.

Daily News: Other than its sheer beauty, what other aspects does Lake Powell in Arizona [for the Mexican American Unity Swim] have as the perfect venue to set a world record?
Vito: There are no sharks and no wildlife that could possibly interfere. We picked this one for its perfect setting.

Daily News: What is the most complicated obstacle to overcome when organizing the logistics of this swim?
Vito: Travel to the location, everyone’s schedule, the dependency of everyone on one another. If one swimmer bails, we are in trouble. I pick bullet-proof swimmers. National Park service is great, but [preparation and planning] takes paperwork and face-to-face meetings.

Daily News: How many support staff are part of this effort?
Vito: A medical doctor, an escort boat driver with two skippers, two kayakers, a cook and a houseboat captain [editor’s note: the swimmers will rest on a houseboat during the swim].

Daily News: How do you select these individuals?
Vito: I am so lucky to find people. I always go to the site of the event before and meet eye-to-eye with anyone who you risk your life with. The team is counting on that. It is the most important thing I can do. I interview them without interviewing them.

Daily News: How do you recruit the support staff?
Vito: The captain of the main boat has to be involved and I have enough resources to call those who are interested by now. I look for personality, ability to deliver as promised, help, help and help. Enthusiasm and personality are key.

Daily News: Who is your pilots? How are they going to share escort duties?
Vito: We have the most qualified man in Lake Powell to skipper our boat. We were very lucky to find him. Gerry from Mexico and Alan are both very good friends of Edna Llorens she contributes so much.

Daily News: How much food do you take along on what may take you up to 60 hours?
Vito: Because it may take 60 hours, we take enough to feed for 70 hours.

Daily News: Is there anything special about the male – female dynamics on the boat or during the swim that you prepare for ahead of time?
Vito: I have never even thought about that, but women are tougher I think. Men tend to perform better around women. That is kind of normal, I think. I invited our Mexican swimmers based on their records and ability; gender wasn’t even a consideration.

Daily News: There are no sharks like in your Farallones swim or jellyfish in your Sea of Cortez swim, but are there other things to look out for in Lake Powell?
Vito: Boats, drunks driving boats, sudden storms, bad weather and lightning. There is always plenty to think about.

Daily News: How are decisions made during the swim?
Vito: I am the captain of the American team. I know my swimmers best. International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame inductee Nora Toledano has authority over her swimmers. Either one of us can call the swim. This empowers both her and me and creates a team spirit and seriousness about the event. There has to be a chain of command. The captain of the main boat, of course, under maritime law has ultimate authority. He can call it all off at anytime. He can even marry people on board [smiles and laughter].

Daily News: The pre-race preparations require much time and effort, but what about the post-race follow-up?
Vito: I have to make sure the bills get paid and share our experiences with others so the swimming community can benefit from our effort. We let people know it was safe what we did and inform the community the amount of money we raised for charity.

Daily News: Whatever can go wrong, you have planned for. But what can go wrong?
Vito: Illness, missed plane connections, the skipper getting sick. Anything and everything can go wrong. You always calculate constantly. In your mind, OK, he can’t make it. I can drive and hour extra so can Matt or Phil. NOTHING goes according to plan. NOTHING. You have to lead. Then, most everything falls into place and what doesn’t you fix as best you can.

The Antelope Marina the finest marina on Lake Powell, donated a $6,000 boat for free because they believe in what we are doing. There are so many good things that happen, especially when you do these events for charity.


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