Contributed by Alana Aubin, NELMSC Communications Chair, and Laurie Hug
WESTMORE, VT – More than 100 USMS swimmers gathered at Lake Willoughby, Vermont August 16-17 for the 2019 USMS Open Water National Championships. The event was hosted by the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association (NEKOWSA), as part of its Swim the Kingdom Week, with support from the New England LMSC (NELMSC).
On Friday, 93 swimmers took to the water for the Sprint-Distance National Championship, a 1-mile buoy course off the lake’s North Beach. The water was around 70F and a southerly wind caused 1-2 foot waves. The race was run in three waves of 30-32 swimmers each. The top six in each age group took home a custom “woodal” and National Champions also garnered a jug of Vermont maple syrup.
In wave one, Kim Elsbach posted the fastest time (23:24) to earn the national title in the women’s 55-59 age group with nearly a minute lead over the 60-64 champion, Karen Einsidler. New Englanders Tracy Grilli, Ann Swift, and Margaret Haskins filled out the next three 60-64 spots, while Martha Wood was the 55-59 runner up. Joel Feldmann (65-69) and Cynthia Needham (70-74) both took third in their age groups.
In the all-male second wave, Stuart Cromarty emerged from the lake first in 21:08 to take home the national title in the men’s 55-59 age category with Rob Allen not far behind to earn the 50-54 title. Guy Davis took first in 60-64 while Douglas Sayles (50-54) and Tom Phillips (45-49) grabbed second in their age groups.
In wave three, Ildiko Szekely produced the overall fastest time of the day in 21:05 after a tight race with Mackenzie Leake, who became the 25-29 champion. Szekely won the women’s 40-44 age group, followed by Jessica Stokes and Jennifer Downing. Alana Aubin (25-59), Kimberly Fry (35-39), and Karyn Scherer (45-49) each picked up second place in their age groups.
On Saturday, 82 athletes completed a 5-mile Lake Willoughby crossing, swimming South to North for this year’s Long-Distance Open Water National Championship. Conditions were similar to Friday, with water 68-70 degrees and a tailwind from the south pushing swimmers along and creating waves up to a foot. Upon finishing on the sandy North Beach, swimmers and their escort kayakers were treated to a pig roast. Winners took home beef jerky and more custom woodals.
Eric Nilsson took the overall win and men’s 30-34 title in an astounding 1:36:21 while Mackenzie Leake picked up her second national title of the weekend by winning the women’s event (and the 25-29 age group) in 1:45:57.
New England athletes dominated the women’s 40-44 division with Jessica Stokes, Jennifer Downing, and Laurie Craigen sweeping the podium. Jennifer Olsen and Merin Troutman were the top two finishers in the women’s 45-49 group. Jessica Moore and Janelle Guyot were second and third in the 35-39 group while Tracy Grilli led Nancy Johnston, Margaret Haskins, and Joanna Florio-Jeffereys in positions 2-5 of the 60-64 division. Cynthia Needham (70-74) and Alana Aubin (25-29) each finished second while Martha Wood (55-59) was third.
On the men’s side, Mike Broglio and Christopher Graefe went 1-2 in the 45-49 age group while Douglas Sayles (50-54), Phil Schoepke (55-59), and Guy Davis (60-64) each won their age groups.
Both days, several lucky participants won an extra prize—a custom-embroidered TYR Alliance backpack, FINIS duo underwater MP3 player, or USMS apparel—provided by the NELMSC via bib number lottery. Athletes in both races admired the beauty of Lake Willoughby and competed in the spirit of the Northeast Kingdom: No lanes, no lines, no limits.
NEKOWSA will host next year’s USMS Ultramarathon-Distance Open Water National Championship at Lake Memphremagog on July 25, 2020.