Bridges to Bluffs 10k (6.2 mi.) Open Water Swim/2019 USMS Marathon will take place September 22, 2019 in the Tennessee River. Swimmers begin the race by jumping from the “Star of Knoxville” Riverboat (held stationary in the middle of the River) and have four hours to complete the course. Course landmarks include the downtown bridges, Neyland Drive, Cherokee Farms, and Sequoyah Hills Park. Currently this is the only marathon swim in the world that begins with such a unique start.
Proceeds from the event return to the Knoxville community via donations to the West High School Navy Junior ROTC Program and the Knoxville Open Water Swimmers. This group, founded in 2016 by Jack McAfee and Blaik Ogle, promotes open water swimming, conservation and cleanup of the downtown waterfront, and has quickly put Knoxville on the map as a destination for marathon swimmers across the country.
“This event is the perfect opportunity to showcase the Tennessee River in downtown Knoxville as a venue in and of itself,” said Chad Culver, Senior Director of the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission. “Hosting Olympic athletes in this championship speaks to the quality of this competitive course.”
While the event is catered to marathon swimmers, it is unlike any other in the area. A marathon swim is essentially “a parade on the water” with each swimmer having a pilot (kayaker or paddle board) escort. Our field is vastly competitive – 175 swimmers from 31 states and 2 countries. There is a wide range of athletes from Triple Crown Ultra Marathon swimmers (26 mi. English Channel, 26 mi. Catalina Channel, and 28.5 mi. circumnavigation of Manhattan Island), solo marathon swimmers who’ve piloted “first” crossing of various lakes and ocean channels, and former Olympians (our reigning female Champion, Ashley Whitney, from Nashville, won a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympic Games).
This race is the first of its kind. A small group of local swimmers from Chattanooga (the Chattanooga Open Water Swimmers) and Knoxville pioneered the route on Sept 11, 2016. The following year the event hosted 76 people and obtained the National Championship bid for the 2019 race. The 2018 race received 100 entries, of which 88 completed the event. The 2019 event sold all 115 available slots in under 24 hours. Due to the demand, a second cruise was opened to accommodate another 60 swimmers, which also sold out in record time. This the only USMS Championship race to sell out and have the largest field to date.
Marathon swimming is new to Knoxville; the vision of Race Directors Jack McAfee and Blaik Ogle is to promote and grow the sport locally. Thursday nights average over 20 people who participate in weekly river swims. Five swimmers have earned the title of “marathon distance swimmer”, completing the 10.3 mile “Swim the Suck” held every October in Chattanooga. This year that number will rise to 10. The number of locals stepping up to complete Bridges to Bluffs grows each year, with athletes ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s. Marathon swimming rules apply: during the 6.2 mi swim, athletes are forbidden from holding on to the kayak/pilot (even when taking a break for a quick feed), are not allowed to “draft” off the boat or another swimmer, may not touch another swimmer, and are not allowed any assistance from the elements in the form of a wetsuit or devices that would give the swimmer protection or buoyancy. Marathon swimming is considered one of the purest forms of the test of human ability – regardless of temperature of the water, length of the swim, or weather, swimmers cannot rely on any assistance and are sometimes forced to overcome challenging conditions to complete this epic challenge. In swimming, the 10k distance is equivalent (timewise) to that of running 26.2 miles, hence the “marathon” designation.
Schedule of events:
The main event takes place at 9am on Sunday, September 22. Athletes board the “Star of Knoxville” Riverboat, which travels half a mile upstream to the East End of Suttree Landing Park. Individually swimmers will jump from the loading plank of the riverboat beginning at 9am where they will be met by their escort to begin the swim. The overall winner is expected to finish around 1hr and 45 minutes. The 2019 National Champions will be crowned at 2pm in Sequoyah Hills Park at the Visit Knoxville Finish Area.
The public is encouraged to attend the event as spectators/cheerleaders/volunteers. Ideal viewing locations are Suttree Landing Park, downtown Gay Street and Henley Street Bridges, Volunteer Landing, The Neyland Drive Greenway, Cherokee Farms Greenway, and Sequoyah Hills Park. Volunteers may inquire by reaching out via email, email@example.com.