The waters of the Gulf of Naples were rough and rollicking on July 12, but Rockville Centre resident Lori King swam through them, making it from the island of Capri to Naples, Italy, in eight hours.
King, 44, an open-water swimmer, took first place in the women’s division and second overall in the 22.5-mile Maratona del Golfo. But it wasn’t about winning, King said. She wanted to beat the elements.
“I swam in college and never liked the competitiveness,” she said. “I like these farther swims. It becomes less about competing with people and more about competing with the conditions.”
King, a mother of two, has been swimming in such contests for about 10 years — in the seas around Spain and Greece, in the Hudson River, off Coney Island and around Key West, just to name a few. Each year she competes in the Montauk Open Swim Challenge. Her longest swim was 21 hours, around Bermuda, where she was the first woman and the second person to complete a race in 2016.
On her crew’s boat in Italy, she flew an American flag, as well as a Bermudan flag, to remind her of that swim. She also wore a black band around her left bicep in memory of her friend Charles Van de Horst, who died suddenly at the end of a swim down the Hudson River. These all reminded her that “I’ve swam through harder, and I can do this,” she said.
Her first swim in Italy was one of her most challenging. “It was a rough, seasick-inducing day,” she said. “Three hours in, I was really achy. I kept focusing on not feeling well and couldn’t settle into [the swim], which I usually do.”
Swimmers have boat crews navigating for them, throwing out feeding bottles, fruit pouches and water and ensuring that swimmers follow the marathon rules. The crewmembers must have no physical contact with the racers. The racers cannot touch the boat and must tread water while eating and drinking.
For some marathons, King chooses a coach. For others, the race director assigns her one. This time, she was paired with Carmine Tavano, a coach who spoke English and knew the waterways.
“He was wonderful, and it worked out really well,” King said. “It could’ve gone completely the other way.”
King noted that the choppy waters made many of her crewmembers seasick, but everyone stuck it out. “It takes a lot of people to make this journey happen,” King said. “I’m very grateful for the people who said, ‘Yes, I’m going to sit on a boat for nine, 10, 12 hours for you.’ It’s the only way that this gets done.”
In the past, she swam through a thunderous tropical storm during a race in Key West. Unless there’s lightning within five miles, she swims, as per race rules. “It’s scary and challenging,” she said, “but when you get through it, you feel really good.”
King, a public health researcher, begins training for her swimming season in January. She swims at least 6,000 yards per day at the Eisenhower Aquatic Center pool —that’s about an hour and a half daily. As she trains, she increases to 8,000 or 10,000 yards. She also takes a family vacation to Aruba every year and trains there with professionals in long, open-water swims.
When it comes down to marathon day, though, “the only certainty is there are no certainties,” King said.
King arrived in Italy on July 10. The day before the race, she met with her crew to plan their route. They had predicted better conditions, but “you never know what you’re going to get,” she said.
On the day of the race, she took a 6 a.m. ferry to Capri and began the race at 9 a.m., swimming to Naples. She wasn’t expecting to come out on top against her seven opponents, including experienced swimmers Giuliana Braga, of Brazil, and Margarita Llorens, of Spain. After the race, King spent the weekend relaxing in Italy with her husband, Michael. They returned to their children, 13-year-old Ryan and 10-year-old Anna, in Rockville Centre on July 16.
“For me, it’s about getting in and accomplishing the swim, not the place,” King said. “You survived and did it, and once the physical pain goes away, you ask, ‘What’s the next challenge?’”