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2014 WOWSA AWARDS

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mark Rew, Open Water Swimmer Through And Through

Courtesy of Mark Rew, shown above on right with guide and coach Brian Suddeth on left.

Mark Rew is an American swimmer who may be the first totally blind person to complete the one-mile challenge event in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim was Rew's first open water swim, completed in 47:10 together with the help of his Swim Angel Brian Suddeth.

Other blind athletes have completed the full 4.4-mile crossing of the Chesapeake Bay, including Butch Arnold who did an informal fundraising crossing in 1978, and James Pittar of Sydney, Australia who became the first blind competitor to complete the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in 2003. Like many other swims, there are others who have attempted this swim and not completed it, sometimes just due to being unlucky with the weather.

Rew explains his preparation and the swim:

"I jumped into the pool and started the first half of a lap. Getting to the other side and panting hard, I heard Brian say, "That looks like work."

I replied, "It is!"

I had done swimming when I was training for a marathon because it felt like a good way to increase endurance without stressing the joints. And, yes, it required work and it did help crease the ability to keep going. But, until Brian called me the first week of February, I had stopped swimming and was even considering dropping my gym membership. It was just too much trouble to get to the gym without driving and the cost of a cab was more than my gym membership. So, I was just going to stick with running on the treadmill and lifting.

Yes, I could swim.

I had been doing it since I was a kid trying to keep up with my customs on the farm. Of course, they did not teach me anything other than: "Kick your feet," and "Keep your head up!" Over time, I did figure out such things as putting my face in the water and pushing my chest down to help keep my legs up. But, even though you can always remember the basics, like any skill, if not practiced one becomes inefficient at it. So, at the beginning of this year I was probably as bad as I had been in years.

Brian started showing me Total Immersion swimming which started a number of revelations. First was the Superman glide. Just pushing off from the wall and making my body as straight as possible allowed me to glide farther than I have ever before. For me, one of the most important early improvements was an efficient method of arm movement. Over time, we added rolling the whole body instead of turning the head to breathe, using the hip to get power in the stroke, keeping the legs closed together and doing a flicking kick in coordination with the roll, and most important, keeping a hand out in front to make the body long and thin.

The biggest revelation was feeling the glide between strokes. Sometimes the glide is so fast that when my lead hand will hit the wall in front of me, it nearly jams my fingers. Now after starting by struggling to cross the pool, I have, since April 16th, been able to swim more than a mile per session with no exhaustion.

The first open water swim was breakthrough. I told Brian afterward, "My biggest concern was I would get out there and say, 'No, no, I can't do it, let's go back.'" For portions of the time I would think to myself, I can always say I want to go to shore. I didn't and we swam. The actual event was a little too exciting. At first I could not control my breathing. I had to stop twice to get my breath. When I finally relaxed and actually applied the techniques we practiced, the swimming went smoothly. After we finished, I felt like, "Oh, now I'm ready. Can we do it again?"

Skills to improve on include, increasing the glide by: learning to breathe on both sides, keeping the legs up, and keeping a steady rate of stroke.


But Rew is an open water swimmer through and through.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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