What’s that popular phrase often given as the reason climbers attempt to scale Mount Everest: “Because it is there.”
That’s pretty much the same explanation Andie Nelson gave, in addition to being a new challenge, for successfully completing the 28.5-mile 20 Bridges Manhattan Swim around the famous New York City island-borough on Aug. 24.
It was the first time the Arlington resident attempted the swim.
Despite always contending with symptoms of Lyme disease, the Chicago native regularly participates in those types of open-water competitions. She has swam various distances in the Potomac River and completed a 9-mile ocean swim. She’s also participated in ironman triathlons.
Swimming around Manhattan was the longest swim she has attempted.
“It’s one of the big open-water swims that I wanted to do, and I felt great the whole time,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t a super-choppy day for the water and there wasn’t much debris or jellyfish. I was kind of sad to finish because I had invested so much time and training. I wasn’t in a hurry to finish.”
Wearing a cap, swimsuit (wetsuits were not allowed) and zinc sunscreen, Nelson began the swim at 8:30 a.m. at Pier A in Battery Park. Eight and a half hours later, she finished in the same spot, swimming in water temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s. Nelson, 42, never left the water, taking liquid nutrition breaks every 30 minutes from her crew in guide boats.
The Hudson was one of the three rivers included in the swim. The East and Harlem rivers were the others. Participants swam under 20 bridges, some choosing to swim on their backs to see the bottoms. Nelson did so for just a couple, choosing not to break her momentum.
Nelson enjoyed the scenery of swimming around Lower Manhattan. She did encounter some “bad smells,” spent two hours navigating the strong tides in the Harlem River, and made contact with a two-foot-long dead fish in the Hudson River.
“The tide changes made it tricky. I was swimming but not moving for a while,” Nelson said.
She made her best time in the Hudson.
“I was flying,” she said.
To keep her mind fresh, Nelson asked her crew to tell her jokes without the punch lines. She tried to figure those out as she swam, primarily the freestyle.
Nelson also counted her strokes, which helped her feel the water and get into sort of a “meditative state.”
Growing up, Nelson swam for neighborhood pools during the summer and in high school.
“I was never an outstanding swimmer. I’d often finish last in my heats, but I loved swimming and competing,” she said.
Nelson also was a youth gymnast and was a diver on the women’s team at Bates College, and played Ultimate Frisbee at Indiana University.
She eventually got involved in endurance sports, developing an endurance mindset.
“That just clicks with me,” she said.
Nelson also is a member of the Wave One Open Water swimming group, which meets at National Harbor in the summer. She swims throughout the winter in the South River near Annapolis without a wetsuit.
She also almost daily visits the Donaldson Run Stream to monitor the health of the stream as a volunteer for the Arlington County. During the coldest part of the winter, with temperature in the 30s and 40s, she sits in the stream between 7 to 14 minutes. Her three school-age children join her on some of those ice sits.
“My coach and friend, Bob Soulliere, tells me, ‘When you feel calm, you are ready to get out,’” Nelson said. “I find that the cold- water practice grounds me, forces me to focus on the here and now, and helps me manage stress. If you can learn to calm your mind in painfully freezing water and just be, I promise you will have better control over your body’s response to daily stress. Yes, I’m a total weirdo.”
As for future open-water long swims? Nelson aims to swim the English Channel in 2023, as well as the Catalina Channel swim in California at some point.
Those three, the 20 Bridges swim included, are considered the triple crown of open-water swims.
It’s one down and two to go for Nelson.