Steve Sholdra, 21, made a remarkable Bellingham debut, placing first in the 10-kilometer Aly Fell Memorial Open Water Swim with a time of 2 hours, 11 minutes and 17 seconds on Saturday, Aug. 15, at Lake Padden.
The second place 10K non-wetsuit swimmer was 22 minutes behind Sholdra. The Fordham University senior has completed six 10K open water swims since he began competing 13 years ago with the Bellevue Club Swim Team and Saturday was his first time at Lake Padden.
“This is the only 10K I know of in Washington,” Sholdra said.
There were six events for Masters swimmers: the 2.5K, 5K and 10K all divided into two events — with wetsuits and without. For U.S. swimmers there were four — the 2.5K, 5K, 10K and 800-meter.
Braedon Loeffelholz, 9, placed first in the 800-meter at 17:48.4. James Littlefield, 55, came in first in a wetsuit for the 2.5K race at 37:48.7, followed 8 seconds later by Nathan Rubie, 15, first without a wetsuit. Brock Jones, 33, placed first in the 5K, less than 4 seconds ahead of the competition in the closest race of the day.
“It’s kind of a race with yourself,” Jones said. “You can’t see or hear anything when you’re out there.”
Jones, the gold medalist in the 2-mile open water swim last year at the 2014 Gay Games in Ohio, has been swimming for as long as he can remember. The lake was perfect, he said. From Seattle, Jones knows what swimming in the Northwest is like but Saturday was his first time at Lake Padden.
Littlefield, from Seattle, had also never swam at Lake Padden before Saturday, but he loves the 2.5K race and any opportunity to be in open water. Often in a pool, he has been swimming competitively since 10 years old and shakes his head at competing beyond the 2.5K; he has found his sweet spot for racing.
“This is a great memorial swim,” Littlefield said. “I am pleased to be here.”
The 2015 Aly Fell Memorial Swim was the third annual event since the memorial became an open-water swim. Before, it was a Bellingham Bay Swim Team recreational meet at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center. Fell, who was a member of BBST, died in a car accident in 2009 returning from a swim meet. She was 15 years old.
“The team was searching for the best way to remember Aly,” said Julie Hunter, a mother of two BBST members who knew Fell through swimming.
A charismatic leader and competitor, ‘Felly Fierce’ began swimming with the Whatcom County Dolphins when they were an independent team. She led those on her team who wanted to be more competitive over to the larger BBST. A friendly personality, her loss was felt deeply by everyone who knew her. She had dreams of winning a state title before graduating from Ferndale High School and she spoke of the Olympics with cheerful ambition.
“We depended on her,” said Hunter, recalling a time when her younger boys were nervous about a meet and looked to Fell for inspiration.
The race has grown since it began, with 58 swimmers competing this year. The swim team hopes to turn the memorial into a national qualifier, since the 10K is an Olympic event.
“A 10K for a swimmer is what a marathon is for a runner,” said BBST coach Sean Muncie.
The race is USA Swimming sanctioned and as of this year is also U.S. Masters Swimming sanctioned. The team has made technological advances, such as electronic timing from ankle bracelets. To become a qualifier, BBST needs to prove this event is organized, has proper timing and a fair course, Muncie said.
“(Lake Padden) has perfect conditions,” he said. “I don’t know an open water swimmer who wouldn’t want to do that.”
There are no motor boats, large debrit or current at Lake Padden. The water is also a safe temperature for distance swimming. If water is too warm, it can hurt a seasoned swimmer. On the other hand, water that is too cold can result in hypothermia.
If the Aly Fell Memorial Swim becomes a qualifier and is placed on a race circuit, it would increase participation, Muncie said. Since coming to coach BBST three years ago, his goal is to keep increasing the opportunities of local swimmers to compete nationally.
“It doesn’t make sense not to have open water (races) in the pacific northwest,” Muncie said. “With these lakes, cooler temperatures, it’s ideal.”
2015 Aly Fell Memorial Swim
1. Braedon Loeffelholz
2. Mattias Brand
3. Julie Gill
4. James Gill
5. Kai Arthur
1. James Littlefield (wetsuit)
2. Nathan Rubie
3. Patrick Gray
4. Joshua Smith
5. Jonah Herring
1. Brock Jones
2. Rod Craig
3. Gavin Jones
4. Michael Jones
5. Bruce Vagt
1. Steve Sholdra
2. Annelle Harmer (wetsuit)
3. Pamela Kalas
4. David Kays
5. Alan Bell