NOVEMBER 11, 2016
THE PORT ISABEL PRESS
It’s not every day that our little sand bar has the honor of having two former Olympic swimming legends grace us with their presence, but thanks to Open Water Planet (OWP), both 4-time gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg and 3-time gold medalist Rowdy Gaines came to town to help host the first SPI Open Water Festival.
The 3-day event featured an Open Water Planet Day and OWP Vendor Village on Saturday, a dinner and screening of the movie The Last Gold, and three swim events: a 500-yard sprint for kids, and both 1-mile and 5k open water bay swim races.
Bobby Brewer, former national swim champion and creator of Open Water Planet, has spent a good part of his life in the water. “I could swim before I could walk. I’ve swan all my life and I still swim now,” Brewer noted.
He spoke about how OWP came to be. “Open water swimming became an Olympic event in 2004, and we saw a huge opportunity and a boost in the sport, so I decided to expand from representing Olympic athletes into doing my own events. We had our first race in 2007 and we’ve been going ever since with events all around the U.S.”
His passion for the sport evident, Brewer outlined what his goals are with OWP. “Our mission statement is to get everybody into the water. A lot of what happens in our event is getting into the ocean, swimming a little bit longer distance, and pressing yourself. It’s about the challenge and overcoming that fear – anything they can do to overcome that fear; they’re going to come out happier than they were when they went in.”
When asked about the necessity of learning to swim as a survival skill, Brewer had this to say. “That’s a big part of what we do. The majority of the locations we go into are island, oceans, and lakes, places that are surrounded by water, and it’s interesting to find that they have a large population, almost wherever we go, that does not swim,” he said.
“it’s hugely important to us to have help from the coast guard, the local fire and police department, it’s amazing. Safety is top priority, but ultimately it’s getting your kids in the water and teaching them how to swim so that they can participate in a sport like this for life.”
Brewer finished by sharing a personal story about how the sport of swimming had a critical impact in him. “Swimming saved my life. I had a surgery and was down in the dumps for a while, but it was ultimately swimming that got me into this business.”
Lenny Krayzelburg, 4-time Olympic gold swimmer and CFO of Open Water Planet, has swim academies all around the country. He spoke about his history with Brewery. “In the past we competed against each other. We were one of the top backstrokers in the country years ago, so we’ve known each other for years. We worked on a project together last spring and we talked about his vision here, and I thought it’d be pretty cool to get involved. It’s been incredible.”
Krayzelburg said there were approximately 150 entrants in this festival, and was enthusiastic about SPI. “It’s great, it’s really nice. The hospitality has been incredible here, you can see that the whole community has gotten behind it, and we’re excited. It’s year one, but we hope to make it an annual trip out here, and only grow bigger and bigger as the community learns more about it. I’m excited to here and be a part of this.
Three-time gold medalist and member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Rowdy Gaines served as master of ceremonies for the SPI Open Water Swim Festival. Standing on the dock with microphone in hand, Gaines cheered on the swimmers and kept the crowd entertained as the races were underway.
Gaines reminisced about his childhood, mentioning similarities of his hometown with South Padre Island. “I was born and raised in Winter Haven, Florida, so I love the great climate and environment this town has, but it’s the people! The people have been so generous with their time and so nice, and I think that’s what really makes an event.” Gaines commented.
Gaines went on to remark, “I went to Rio (for the Summer 2016 Olympics) for example, and there was a lot of gloom and doom predicted, but as it turned out, I was there a month and the people were so nice, so it made the Olympics so much nicer, and it’s the same here on SPI. I could see myself living here, for sure it’s so beautiful.”
Gaines concluded, saying, “You couldn’t pick a more beautiful day, the water’s perfect, the conditions are good, everything’s been great!”
Swimmers came from all over Texas and the country to participate, ranging in age from 9 to 67. Joseph Hunt of West Palm Beach, Florida came in first in the 1-mile race, with Chris Mackelson from San Antonio, Texas, placing second. For all the race results, visit www.racechiptiming.com
– By Pamela Cody