ATLANTIC CITY – The Atlantic City High School Boathouse on Fairmount Avenue in the Chelsea section is the starting point for Sunday’s 54th Around the Island Swim featuring 19 athletes from around the world. But the 22.75-mile swim around Absecon Island is not the only event being held during the inaugural Jim Whelan Open Water Festival being hosted by Green Whales, Inc., which instills the love of swimming for children and adults along the Jersey shore. There are two other events that offer a perfect way for open water swimmers to get their feet wet.
Organizers say the festival is a way to get entire families to love the sport of open water swimming and allow swimmers of all ages and abilities the opportunity to participate in a legendary event.
The main event, which was started in 1953 by two Atlantic City lifeguards and was last held in 2006, includes individual and relay team swimmers from the East Coast along with swimmers from Canada, South America and England. Registration for the Around the Island Swim closed in April as the card was filled, but there’s still time to register for the Green Whales 2K (1.2 miles) and the Pilot Whales 400-meter swims, according to Assistant Race Director Sari Carroll.
“We are trying to encourage younger swimmers to love open water swimming and create the long-distance athletes of the future,” she said.
Registrations for those events are “better than expected” but are still open to anyone who wants to swim on race day, Sunday, July 14.
“Parents of younger swimmers often wait to see the conditions on the day of the swim. We’re hoping for at least 70 people to register,” she said.
All proceeds raised from the events benefit Whelan’s Whales, a program that has taught more than 400 children to swim this year.
Although they hold open water swimming events every summer, the Around the Island Swim is a first-time marathon event for the staff at Brigantine Aquatics Center, where Whelan’s little whales shed their fear of the water and learn to swim, not only in a pool, but in open water, just like swimming teacher, lifeguard, Atlantic City mayor and New Jersey Senator Jim Whelan loved to do.
“Our main concern for our first year is safety,” Carroll said. “We want it to be a safe event before we expand in future years. We want to rally our volunteer base and not try to get ahead of ourselves.”
Whelan was a long-distance swimmer and participated in the Around the Island Swim as an athlete, a lifeguard, a coach and as an organizer of the event.
The festival includes the main event and two shorter out and back swims, starting and finishing at the backbay boathouse the high school now shares with female rowers at Stockton University.
Around the Island swimmers will start their grueling swim at 7:30 a.m. and have 10 hours to complete the swim. Anyone within a mile of the finish line at 5:30 p.m. will be allowed to finish. Awards include $500 for the first-place male and female swimmers and team, and dinner and music for all participants at the boathouse starting at 7 p.m.
“We hope to raise prize money exponentially next year,” Carroll said.
French swimmer Stephane Gomez set the record in 2004 with a time of 6:37.09, but there are others attempting to break that record this year.
Included among the long-distance swimmers is Victoria Dolceamore of Margate, who swam the race in 1991 under Whelan’s guidance. She was one of the first female lifeguards on the Longport Beach Patrol and urged by Whelan to accept the challenge. She also competed as part of a relay team in 1999.
In 2017, Dolceamore, now 52, swam a 30K in Morocco, and she participated last year in a relay to cross the English Channel. Unfortunately, her team did not finish the race because one of her teammates suffered a stroke while in the water. He has since recovered and is doing well, she said.
Dolceamore currently coaches children at the Brigantine Aquatics Club.
Residents who live along the backbay are encouraged to decorate their porches and decks overlooking the water and cheer on the participants as they swim by.
Around the Island individual swimmers are:
- Michael Gemelli, 49, of New Jersey
- Eric Tucker, 45, of Brigantine
- Bill Leonard, 40, of Ottowa, Canada
- Steve Rouch, 39, of Indianapolis, Indiana
- Mary Stella, 42 of Pennsylvania
- Melissa Burroughs, 26, of Washington, D.C.
- Bridgette Hobard, 56, of Lake Hopatcong, NJ
- Victoria Dolceamore, 52, of Margate
- Beth Jackson, 44, of Bedford, England
- Ryan McCabe, 34, of Washington, D.C.
- Juan Grabriel Acosta, 36, of Columbia, South America
- Bryan Hill, 30, of Iowa
- John Zeigler, 50 of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
- Charlotte Brynn, 53, of Vermont
- Steven Craig Dunbar, 56, of Midlotan, Va., and Teresa Tess Andres, 38, of Richmond, Va.
- Team Rogue Waves – Marty Munson, 55, and Zahava Lipton, 33, of New York City
- Wildwood Beach Patrol Team – Marc Mancinellli, 40; Chris Callahan, 38; Tina Zappile, 42; Lauren Coskey, 33; and Kate Collins 26.
To register for the 2K and 400-meter events, see http://greenwhales.org/around-the-island#aa0fa14d-d8ee-4e37-818f-9cae8d123005.
For more information about the open water festival, call 609-266-SWIM.