Courtesy of Bill Welzien.

Almost There – Swim #99

Bill Welzien described his 99th swim around Key West in Florida on April 20th.

“Swim #100 is calling to me. She is saying, ‘Reach out and touch me! Catch me if you can.’

Well, no matter how you dice it or slice it, the fact is you can’t get to her unless you go through #99. I am happy, ecstatic to say, swim #99 is in my rear view mirror. Now, I look forward.

My plan was to have grabbed 100 by the end of 2017. What happened? It took three attempts to secure Swim #94. The first two attempts were aborted due to weather-related challenges. I finally nabbed #94 on September 4th 2017.

Days later, we were hit with Hurricane Irma. On September 10th we took a direct hit. No matter, I was back in the brine for swim #95 on October 18th. I had two successful swims in November (2nd and 18th) and then my final swim of 2017 was December 4th. So, I finished 2017 with my #98 career swim.

When I wrapped up 2017 my shoulders were shot. They were so sore. My wife and I took a cruise and I swam for 5 minutes at a beach in Nassau and decided I was not going to swim for six weeks. I stuck to that plan.

Why so sore? Upon returning from our Irma evacuation I was using tools that I wasn’t use to using. Chainsaws, machetes, wheelbarrows full of branches, etc. Add to that the fact that I was not able to swim. My canal was full of trees, branches and a couple sunken boats. I swam those last four swims without proper training. It is amazing I pulled them off. With rest my weary shoulders began to repair. Still, I decided to see a sports doctor. I thought maybe I had damaged them or developed arthritis. After x-rays and a good exam he said they looked good, no damage.

I am not one who likes to stretch. However, I am now whistling a new tune. I have shoulder stretches which I employ regularly, even daily. I gradually rehabbed my shoulders. They feel very good now. In addition to chiropractic adjustment, deep tissue massage, DMSO gel and magnesium oil, I also made much use of my Sundance hot tub. I don’t take any drugs, not even ibuprofen. I did and still do take New Chapter Zyflamend (an herbal anti-inflammatory) also turmeric, boswellia serrate and ginger. I look for any natural inflammatory I can find. I also continue to use my 12 lbs. dumbbells for upper body three times each week. Add to all that copious amounts of prayer.

I originally intended to Swim #99 on April 16th or 17th. The 16th was the new moon. April 17th was my 68th birthday.

But as I looked at the weather the wind was up. My 19-year-old daughter Jane volunteered to kayak as my support, but I did not want to put her out there with 18-20 mph winds. April 19th looked great as the wind was to lay down. Then I learned that President Trump was to fly into Key West. The plan was to barricade South Roosevelt to prohibit parking. That is the beach road along the Atlantic. When I learned that I could face unknown and unusual logistical challenges, like parking and launching the kayak we decided to wait until Friday, April 20th. Also I didn’t fancy the thought of dodging secret service sharpshooter bullets as I swam passed the Navy Base.

So, Friday was the day. Each day we postpone we must move the start time up about another 40 minutes. So, on April 20th we were looking at a 10:30 am starting time. That is my latest start time ever. Our formula is to start from the west end of Smathers Beach between 2.5 to 3 hours before the high tide in the Key West Harbor.

On Thursday, I mixed my Hammer Nutritional Perpetuem into 6 sport bottles. I got my suit and goggles set out. I set out my SolRx Matte Zinc SPF 50 Waterblock and SolRx lip balm. I had some Body Glide for under my arms. The late start meant I would be in the heat of the day! I grabbed my swim pennant #99 to fly on the kayak. Jane had some sport bars and a gallon of water. I put our kayak on the top of my van.

Thankfully, I had a great night’s sleep and we took off that Friday morning to the start area of the swim. We prayed in the van and then again before we entered the water. The water on the Atlantic side was lake like, nice and smooth. The wind was out of the north at about 6-8 mph. We were on the south side of the Island and would be heading west. All was set and we headed out for our in water start at the westernmost end of Smathers Beach.

I started my 920 XT Garmin watch right at 10:32 am. I must say that I felt good. My shoulders were moving. I aimed at the tip of White Street Pier. As I rounded that I looked at the Radar Ball and Radar Dishes at the point of the Navy Base. Those dishes were indicators for mile 2. I got past them at 1:04:33 on my stopwatch.

Next, I swam past Patio Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor. All is calm, all is well. Then, as I rounded Fort Zachary Taylor and I got smacked with wind and waves as soon as I hit the Key West Harbor. With the wind out of the north it was blowing straight through the Harbor. Jane stuck right with me. We swam past the Carnival Sensation cruise ship. There a was good chop. I always love swimming past Mallory Square and then the Ocean Key House. Just past the Ocean Key is mile 4. Next, is the Fleming Cut. It is hard to see the end of the Coast Guard pier that leads to the Fleming Cut. Finding it, I headed in and found that In the Cut the chop was subdued.

At the Fleming Bridge we are at mile 5. I always desire to get under that bridge no later than two hours and fifteen minutes into the swim. The current was working in my favor but it was not killer. I got under at two and a half. While my time wasn’t a knockout I was happily swimming at what I thought decent tempo and feeling good. I had Jane give me a bottle of my drink at that point. The bottle is tethered to a piece of cord. Jane tosses me the bottle holding the other end – so we don’t lose it. I drank down the whole bottle and tossed the empty back and within a minute I was back swimming.

Next, I made my way out toward the mooring field. I aim at the leftmost foliage which I can see, in the distance on Sigsbee (Dredgers Island). As I approach Sigsbee I am at mile 6. The wind was hitting me now at the left shoulder. This was a spirited swim. I make my way around Sigsbee. I knew as I got around Sigsbee the wind would become less and less. In fact, it would be at my back as I swim under the Cow Key Bridge and headed to the Atlantic. As I got around Sigsbee I called to Jane for another bottle of drink.

The Cow Key Bridge is mile 9, but sadly at about mile 8 my GPS watch stopped giving me my splits. I find this frustrating. I like to see what my pace is. My stopwatch keeps clocking, but I get no proper splits. To my surprise, it came back on about a mile later, but then stopped again. All my stats are skewed once the GPS fails.

I got under the Cow Key Bridge at about 5 hours into the event. As I got under the bridge I called for another bottle of drink.

I have about 90 minutes left from that second bridge. Ideally, I love to finish at 6 hours. That was not even a dream at this point. My new goal became to finish under 6 hours 30 minutes.

One of the most difficult aspects of this swim around Key West is swimming out of the Cow Key and into the Atlantic. As you get close to the Ocean and make that turn the water is the most shallow of the entire swim. I find that I need to do some creative stroking. Leaving the Cow Key and entering the Atlantic is mile 10. My muscles have been moving in the same direction for 5 plus hours and now I have to do weird stroking to get through the shallows.

At one point my hip hit the bottom. I just keep moving and praying that I will find swimmable water very soon. It eventually comes. And when it does I am swimming the last 2 miles to my finish. The majority of these last 2 miles is shallow. Some areas shallower than others.

As I get back into the Atlantic I eyeball the seawall on the shore on my right and head west. The water was very calm along the ocean side. That sea wall ends where Smathers Beach begins. That indicates my last half mile is before me. There are 10 poles that keep boat traffic out of the swim area for beach goers. I keep on the outside of those poles and make my way to the last of those poles. The last of those poles was the first when I started. I am happy to say that all along those poles the water gets deeper and is very swimmable. With great joy and much thanksgiving to my God I made my way to that westernmost pole. I hit the stop button on the watch after I touched the pole. My finish time was 6 hours 25 minutes 37 seconds.

I gave Jane a high five. She did a great job. Now, I have completed a career total of 99 swims around Key West. As I made my way back to the beach my daughter Abigail and grandson Archie were there to greet Jane and me. I am always happy to take the victory photo. Now, we pack up and head back home – another beautiful experience.

My plan is to swim my #100 – the longest Century Swim on record – on May 19th.”

Swim #99 Splits

Mile 1: 32:27
Mile 2: 32:06
Mile 3: 30:31
Mile 4: 27:23
Mile 5: 29:24
Mile 6: 37:35
Mile 7: 36:19
Mile 8: 36:10
Mile 9: 47:10
Mile 10: 1:16:32
Total: 6:25:37

Bill Welzien’s Swims Around Key West in 2016-2018
#73 on April 23th 2016 in 6 hours 28 minutes 30 seconds with escort kayaker Douglas Weeks
#74 on May 21st 2016 in 6 hours 52 minutes 0 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#75 on June 4th 2016 in 6 hours 15 minutes 48 seconds with escort kayaker David Welzien
#76 on June 22nd 2016 in 6 hours 19 minutes 38 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#77 on July 5th 2016 in 6 hours 47 minutes 26 seconds with escort kayaker John Gildersleeve
#78 on August 3rd 2016 in 6 hours 35 minutes 40 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#79 on August 17th 2016 in 6 hours 35 minutes 7 seconds with escort kayaker Abigail White
#80 on September 3rd 2016 in 6 hours 37 minutes 51 seconds with escort kayaker Dr. Ryan Barnett
#81 on September 16th 2016 in 7 hours 5 minutes 34 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#82 on September 30th 2016 in 6 hours 36 minutes 56 seconds with escort kayaker Billy Welzien
#83 on October 15th 2016 in 6 hours 17 seconds with escort kayaker Billy Welzien
#84 on November 14th 2016 in 5 hours 55 minutes 5 seconds with escort kayaker Abigail White
#85 on November 16th 2016 in 6 hours 30 minutes 55 seconds with escort kayaker Nora Jones
#86 on December 15th 2016 in 6 hours 7 minutes 0 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#87 on December 29th 2016 in 6 hours 12 minutes 59 seconds with escort kayaker Jeremy Smith
#88 on May 10th 2017 in 6 hours 32 minutes 22 seconds with escort kayaker Billy Welzien
#89 on May 26th 2017 in 5 hours 59 minutes 37 seconds with escort kayaker Douglas Weeks
#90 on June 24th 2017 in 6 hours 1 minute 33 seconds with escort kayaker David Welzien
#91 on July 11th 2017 in 6 hours 14 minutes 19 seconds with escort kayaker Douglas Weeks
#92 on July 24th 2017 in 6 hours 35 minutes 59 seconds with escort kayaker Billy Welzien
#93 on August 8th 2017 in 6 hours 3 minutes 43 seconds with escort kayaker Terence White
#94 on September 4th 2017 in 6 hours 41 minutes 57 seconds with escort kayaker Douglas Weeks
#95 on October 18th 2017 in 6 hours 35 minutes 40 seconds with escort kayaker Abigail White
#96 on November 2nd 2017 in 6 hours 11 minutes 16 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien
#97 on November 18th 2017 in 6 hours 12 minutes 55 seconds with escort kayaker Douglas Weeks
#98 on December 4th 2017 in 5 hours 56 minutes 22 seconds with escort kayaker Captain Don Nelson
#99 on April 20th in 6 hours 25 minutes 37 seconds with escort kayaker Jane Welzien

Copyright © 2008-2018 by World Open Water Swimming Association