Courtesy of Patricia Hermann, Tex Robertson’s Highland Lakes Challenge in Austin, Texas.

Texas has one of the best kept secrets in open water swimming … organized by swimming royalty – a husband and wife team including Olympic triple gold medalist, Sandy Neilson and the swimming world’s oft-published sports psychologist Dr. Keith Bell.

The Highland Lakes Challenge, in the Hill Country near Austin, is recognized as the first competitively organized open water stage race in the U.S. It is a 5-day stage race with daily distances between 3 and 5 miles. This year’s event brought in swimmers from as far away as Sweden and, as usual, attracted athletes from coast to coast across the continental U.S.

“Each lake presented a unique challenge,” said Patricia Hermann.




Day One at Lake Buchanan was one of those swims that every swimmer has experienced; the kind where 4 miles can easily turn into 5 as you try to do your sighting in unison with the crest of a wave.

Day Two at Inks Lake is a fun 3-mile sprint starting at the dam – just below the previous day’s turning point at the dam. It follows the shoreline where right-side breathers can check out the vacation real estate and fantasize about how they would spend their lottery jackpot. On the boat ride to the start, Keith and Sandy shared the rich swimming history of the race’s namesake and inventor of the flip turn, Tex Robertson.

Day Three at Lake LBJ was the calm before the storm … flat and glassy; honest miles.

Day Four at Marble Falls brought in the stormy weather that was a remnant of Hurricane Patricia, who was ferociously sending her collateral damage up the Gulf Coast. The course was manipulated to maintain the specified distance, and was turned into a looping 4-point rectangular pattern to accommodate the need for course safety. Since no swimmers could agree on which leg was the toughest one, it’s probably safe to assume that it was one of the roughest swims of the series.

Day Five, the fifth and final race at Lake Travis, was truly the swim to the home stretch as Keith and Sandy opened up their gorgeous lake home to all the Highland Challenge participants as the finish for this last swim. Boated out to a marina start, this was a “Z” pattern swim that had a very interesting ‘ebb and flow’ type of current; the challenge being to find a rhythm that would work in such an unpredictable current and wind pattern.

Award recognition is broken down into Monster Challenge (all 5 lakes), Weekend Warrior (last 3 lakes), and first place for individual stage races. But every finisher after each race, earns a slice of pie at the regionally famous Bluebonnet Cafe where a lot of post-swim camaraderie takes place.

Overall, the aptly named Highland Lakes Challenge was indeed a challenge, but the right kind … the kind that open water swimmers seek out; where there is a perfect balance between strong competitive swimming and fun.”

2015 Highland Lakes Challenge Monster (5 lakes in 5 days) Results:
1 Keith Bell (67) 7:15:01

2 Andy Gordon (52) 7:34:43

3 Patty Hermann (56) 8:19:33

4 Damon Steed (39) 8:27:27

5 Judy Pusch (46) 8:33:09

6 Conny Brinck (39) 9:19:30

7 Maggie Timossi (49) 9:34:18

2015 Highland Lakes Weekend Warrior (3 lakes in 3 days) Results:
1 Gary Simon (39) 3:23:10

2 Robert Alford (50) 3:50:23

3 Vickie Aronson (47) 4:44:05

4 Richard Mowris (64) 4:51:15

5 Scott McDonald (49) 4:57:01

6 Kristy Johnson (53) 5:03:25

For more information, visit the Highland Lakes Challenge Facebook page here or the American Swimming Association website here.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association