Rockville Centre resident Lori King, 39, completed an open-water swim from the California mainland to Catalina Island — a distance of 20.5 miles — beginning the night of Aug. 14 and finishing the following morning, eight hours and 51 minutes later.
“It’s just a prestigious swim for an open-water swimmer to do,” she said.
She had planned to go from Catalina Island to the mainland — most swimmers go that way — but her accompanying boat’s captain said that they should change directions right before they were supposed to leave.
“My first initial reaction [was] that they never usually do it that way,” King said. “I was a little thrown off by that.”
The last time someone completed the swim starting from the mainland was 2010, according to the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation.
King has been swimming her whole life, though she took some time off after competing for La Salle University. She eventually got into open-water swimming and started racing in 2010.
“I just enjoyed the distance,” she said. “It takes it out of feeling like a race, and more like a personal goal.
King had trained for the Catalina Channel swim for a year and a half. To prepare, she swam in very cold waters — including a swim in 38-degree water on Thanksgiving Day without a wetsuit, as part of her coach’s group, the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers.
“My coach, Bonnie [Schwartz], is an English Channel finisher,” King said. “She’s very knowledgeable about not just open-water swimming but the science behind it.”
King also took cold showers, wore lighter sweaters in the winter and put on 17 pounds — all to prepare for the temperature.
At the beginning of her swim, the water was 62 degrees. “All in all, I was lucky that the water temperature was relatively warm,” she said. “My coach had trained me in much cooler water to be prepared.”
King expected the cold water, but she did not expect the darkness. “There was no moon out,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face.”
The boat had turned all of its external lights off to not attract sea life. The boat and the kayak accompanying her had only glow sticks hanging on the side.
For food, King’s support team would throw a bottle to her and she would drink it while treading water. This has to be done quickly, because it is not good to stay stationary in cold water for too long.
“That last 45 minutes felt like hours,” she said. “When I did crawl up, it was unbelievable. I felt like I was having a dream – like it wasn’t really happening to me.”
Would she ever do it again?
“Now that I know I could do it, yes,” King said. “It’s kind of like giving birth. You forget the pain after a while.” She has two children, Ryan, 8, and Anna, 6. They and her husband, Michael, did not come on the boat because the kids are too young and he was not part of crew.
For now, King plans on swimming around Manhattan next June, along with some other open water races.