"For a harbor town, we have a poor aquatics presence. It’s never been nurtured,” says Kathleen Wilson, a champion open-water marathon swimmer—and Charleston City councilwoman—who has completed many of the world’s greatest swims, including crossing the English Channel. “I’d like for the Swim Around Charleston to help change that.”
Last September, Wilson launched the annual 12-mile swim that starts at Remley’s Point, crosses the Cooper River to the peninsula, then heads up the Ashley to the W.O. Thomas, Jr. Boat Landing on I-526. She intentionally kept the inaugural event low key. “There are a lot of safety issues involved, and I wanted to make sure we weren’t overwhelmed,” explains Wilson, who garnered support from the Coast Guard and Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.
Twenty solo swimmers and 12 four-person relay teams took to the water—most of them arriving from around the country, as “there aren’t many locals who are able to do the solo distance,” Wilson notes. The winner, Mallory Mead of Los Angeles, finished in four hours.
“We needed a 10- to 15-mile event—a good beginner distance—on the Southeastern marathon swimming circuit, so that’s what we’re offering,” says Wilson, who hopes to grow the competition into a nonprofit that would further develop the area’s aquatics community.
On September 23, 50-plus athletes will take to the water, with boats transporting relay teams and solo swimmers escorted by kayakers. “Open water swimming is a different ball game,” says Wilson. “There’s no walking on the bottom. If you get tired, if you’re stung by a jellyfish, you suck it up and keep swimming.”