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Between 8 Bridges: A Swimmer’s Eye View


Photo courtesy Greg Porteus
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Rondi Davies began swimming competitively at the age of seven. She’s lived in Papau New Guinea, Australia and has been a resident of New York City for the past 10 years. Rondi has a Ph.D. in geology and is an earth scientist, science educator and writer skilled at making science accessible to a museum audience. She recently completed the 8 Bridges Swim, a 120 mile marathon down the Hudson River from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in Catskill to Brooklyn’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Over 7 days in July, Rondi and up to six other swimmers dove into the Hudson River at a different bridge each morning, sometimes swimming as many as 20 miles a day, navigating changing currents, large boats, and sweltering heat. Following is a Q&A with Rondi about her experience:

Photo courtesy Greg Porteus

How did you become involved with the 8 Bridges Swim?
“My friend and training partner, David Barra, conceived the idea of the 8 Bridges Swim. We started discussing doing the swim over dinner on a dark, cold February evening earlier this year. Not long after that, we saw John Lipscomb and his colleagues give a talk about Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Water Quality Testing Program. The presentation was informative and inspiring and the contact we made with John that day led us to connect with Greg Porteus and his boat Launch 5 which provided support on the swim. Between February and July, the little swim David and I were planning to do grew into an event that included 20 swimmers, kayaker and boat support and fundraising for three organizations (including Riverkeeper) concerned with making the river a clean and sustainable environment.

During the planning and swimming of 8 Bridges, I had a strong sense that I was a student of the Hudson. In particular, learning about the workings of the tidal currents and how to benefit from these when swimming was like solving a fascinating puzzle. It was important that we timed each swim with the ebb current and we were successful except for the longest day, Bear Mt Bridge to the Tappan Zee, when the tide turned with three miles to go and only two swimmers were able to make headway to finish.”

What was your experience like?
“The event itself was a wonderful experience. It was such a privilege to spend a week swimming in the Hudson while being supported by a team of people. It is such a beautiful river and I found inspiration in its romantic, natural beauty and contrasting industrial footprint. Each day was new and different and just as amazing as the last.”

How did Riverkeeper and its Water Quality Testing Program factor in with your experience?
“I read Riverkeeper’s Hudson River testing program water quality reports, so over time I have become informed about the hotspots along the river and the impact of rain on water quality. We planned for bad weather delays but were fortunate to have amazing weather, so water quality was not an issue.

John Lipscomb’s and Riverkeeper’s work has been a tremendous inspiration. We did this swim because it’s a challenge that was waiting to be met, and it’s a great river to be enjoyed. But one of the reasons we can swim in the river today is because of the work that has been done over the past few decades to clean it up. The Hudson still has a way to go, but Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Testing Program has been instrumental in making municipalities accountable for their wastewater. We wanted to raise awareness about these issues and bring attention to Riverkeeper’s work. Swimming 8 Bridges was my way of being a stakeholder in the future of our river.”

What are your thoughts about the recent sewage discharge from the North River treatment plant accident?
We swam right past Riverbank, also the pool I train in, exactly one week before the fire and sewage discharge. My first thought was how lucky we were it didn’t happen during the swim as it would have stopped it short. This was quickly followed by feeling upset and helpless about the massive amount of sewage being dumped into a waterway I know so intimately. As a swimmer working closely with Riverkeeper during the event, I know I would have been made aware of the issue, but it makes me think about the people who were out swimming and recreating nearby that didn’t know about the condition of the water.

Untreated sewage also floods the waterways any time it rains, and it’s not reported. We need to make more people aware of that fact. Awareness leads to solutions.”

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