Vashon swimmers go the distance

Community swims 730 miles in February

Swimmers at the Vashon Pool set the bar high in February at the inaugural “Leap-Month Challenge.”

The challenge was organized by facility operator and lifeguard Derek Hinz, who wanted to see just how far the community could swim in one month. He encouraged everyone to set goals and record their swims, whether by distance, time or number of visits.

Seventy-nine people participated and swam more than 730 combined miles — a linear distance that would have reached northeast of Ketchikan, Alaska, south to Monterey Bay, or southeast to Provo, Utah.

Leading the way was Wendy Van De Sompele, who swam 57.85 miles during the month. Van De Sompele was energized by the opportunity, originally setting a goal of 54 miles and becoming even more eager when she realized she could surpass that number.

“I’ve been swimming competitively for most of my life, so I always enjoy a win,” she said.

Greg Harrison swam the second greatest distance, with 50.46 miles recorded. Others who swam 20 miles or more include Jeff Alpen, Nell Coffman, Erin Kieper, Michael List, Donna Nesper and Michael Wishkoski.

Linda Wishkoski tied with Harrison for the most visits to the Vashon Pool. Both were in the water 18 times during the month.

“I thought the challenge was a great idea, and it was fun to see how people became more excited about it as the month went on,” said Wishkoski. “It certainly motivated me to show up 18 of the 29 days.”

Hinz, the challenge organizer, was inspired by an idea he heard from pool regular Barb McMahon, and hoped to provide a fun activity for others.

“The swimmers always do a thing for the lifeguards at Christmas. They do this big collection and give us gift certificates and it’s really nice. So I thought this would be a good way to reciprocate,” he said.

He also thought the challenge might motivate people to keep swimming throughout the month.

“People swim a lot in January because of new year’s resolutions,” said Hinz, but it often doesn’t last. “… So I thought that (February) would be a logical time to keep people going.”

It seemingly proved an effective method to keep attendance high. According to data provided by pool manager Randy Turner, there was an average of 125 visits per week during lap swim hours in January. That number jumped to 139 weekly visits on average in February. That number is even more impressive because, says Turner, “many of the regulars are out of town this time of year.”

“It certainly increased the energy,” said lifeguard Laura Weston. “It was Leap Day, and people were coming to get their last day of mileage in because they were making sure — they wanted to get that number.”

“I think it’s healthy to challenge ourselves and discover that we are more capable than we give ourselves credit for,” Van De Sompele said.

Many swimmers appreciated the opportunity to set personal goals.

“I’m very competitive, so I love a challenge,” said Trudy Rosemarin, who set a goal of swimming one mile each visit.

Rosemarin met her goal and recorded 12 miles at the pool, including four miles during the last week. Rosemarin felt she improved her stroke, dramatically reduced her time, and improved her physical well-being.

“When I saw my chiropractor, she was amazed at how little adjustment I needed,” Rosemarin said.

Robert Litman agreed. “I felt a little more in shape being pushed a bit,” he said. Litman usually swims without counting laps, but set a goal of four miles per week. “I am 80 years old and that seemed enough.”

Zoe Rothchild, who swam 10.5 miles, didn’t set a goal, “but I did end up adding a mile and a half more than I otherwise would have done that month.”

An increased sense of community among swimmers was perhaps the best outcome of the challenge.

“Swimming can be a little solitary so it was fun to have a communal goal,” said Rothchild. “Everyone is already really friendly but it added something nice to talk about with people in the locker room.”

Suzanne Hubbard admired all the effort put forth by Hinz, who even crafted participation “trollfies” — a small troll on stick pedestal — for each person who recorded a swim during the month.

By the end of the month, Hinz was impressed by the total distance but somewhat caught off guard by the community’s reaction to his efforts.

“I was surprised there was such a positive reaction. People are genuinely really appreciative,” he said.

The next challenge will probably be in May, Hinz said, currently themed “‘May’-be We Can Make it to 1,000 Miles.” He is optimistic about that goal.

“If we can get half-a-dozen more swimmers, and we have a couple extra days in the month to add to the mileage, that alone could get us pretty close,” he said. “Plus it will be late spring and the bubble will be off. It tends to start picking up. People love swimming in the open pool once the bubble is off.”

There will be plenty of opportunities for people to work toward their swim goals. Lap swim sessions are held every morning, Monday-Saturday, and again on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. Open swim times are perfect for more relaxed swimming, but there is always at least one lap lane available. Aquafit classes recently resumed on Tuesday afternoons.

April Wilkinson is an independent college admissions coach, educational consultant, and avid lap swimmer. She swam 17 miles in February.