Once again, Team MVM sent two 6-person relay squads to compete in the 9-Mile Maui Channel Swim on September 4th. As you may have heard by now, one team was kept from the finish line by a 12-foot long tiger shark. Scary! But the trip was a tremendous success and plans for next year are already in the works!
In the Maui Channel Swim, Team A and Team 1 both got off to great starts from Lana'i in a crowded field of over 50 teams. The current was not too strong, and there was no wind, so the teams headed straight for Ka'anapali on Mau'i.
The race was going well for both squads. Team 1 was on the northern edge of the field while Team A was on the southern edge of the eastbound race. For Team A, after Alan Liu's first leg, Aaron Wong and Rob Anagnoson held the team's position in the pack. The team's secret weapon, Katie Liu, swam the 4th leg of the relay and passed three teams during her 30 minute swim. On the fifth leg, Annika Lewis continued to close on another team as Nadine Andrakin awaited her turn when the race was suddenly interrupted.
A boat ahead of Team A sped up to our boat and told us to pull our swimmer, Annika, out of the water. One of their swimmers had been followed by a "huge" tiger shark, and they dropped out of the race. As the other boat motored away to warn other teams in the area, Team A discussed the situation. Intent on beating last year's time and place, and wanting to maintain an awesome pace, the team decided to put Annika back in the water and continue, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for sharks.
Sure enough, not even a minute passed before a large, dark mass came to the surface about 25 yards behind Annika. "What is THAT?" asked Rob, as the other team members looked and uttered "Oh, sh**!" The team panicked! The boat captain swung around, and swimmers yelled to Annika to get out. Annika flew to the ladder and in one quick motion popped into the boat. The shark was only 10 yards from her at that time!
We motored up alongside the shark to get a good, close look. It was a menacing looking beast, Predator with a capital "P"! The shark was more than half the length of our Bayliner, cruising along about 2 feet under the surface. One look and Alan was on the CB announcing our withdrawal from the race. We followed the shark for about 30 minutes, alerting other teams to its location. Finally we headed for shore.
Meanwhile, Team 1 kept on pace to the finish. Mark Bongi, Clark Breyman, Mike Grote, Dale Jackson, Tana Netsch, and Roy Sueda listened to the shark tales over the CB but never thought about quitting. Once near Mau'i, the wind and current picked up again, like last year, and the team had to really fight to make it to the beach. But Team 1 did finish, and it was time to celebrate!
Two days later, Alan flew to Oahu to meet up with Suzanne Topp, Deborah Topp, and Mark Tan for the 2.4-Mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim. It was another beautiful Hawai'i day, but as with last year, the currents were running against the swimmers. Alan was petrified of sharks at this point, and he shared his fear with the others. Nevertheless, all four competed in what is probably the most fun open water swim of them all.
Alan was in the first wave of starters while Suzanne and Deborah were in the second wave and Mark in the late-entrant's fifth wave. The swimmers lined up on the beach for the start, and there was so much energy that they knew it would be a fast swim despite the currents. The swimmers headed straight out to sea, through the surf, and around the first buoy.
Once off shore, the swells picked up to 3 to 4 feet high, throwing the swimmers from side to side. Luckily, the swells came from the left, so breathing to the right side as usual was easy. The field spread out quickly as they raced from buoy to buoy, 17 total.
Alan's visibility was hampered by the swells. The pace was very to just keep up with the other swimmers. After what felt like 30 minutes, Alan got a good look at a buoy as he passed. It was #6. He had counted 6 buoys, but was hoping that he had missed some and was further along in the race. No such luck; the pain would continue for a while longer.
Meanwhile, Suzanne and Deborah were a few minutes behind. Working as a team, they planned to draft off of one another for the entirety of the race. Suzanne had dislocated her shoulder the week before and wanted to be close to a friendly face in case she had trouble at sea. Mark was just starting his race.
At buoy #8, Alan had gotten a 2nd wind (or was it the 3rd?) and decided to make a move. He broke from his pack determined to catch the next pack of swimmers before buoy #9, the mid-way point. Several others followed in pursuit, single-file, drafting off one another. Just as buoy #9 was in sight, that next group of swimmers was within reach. Alan fell in to their draft, and the whole group swam along through the swells.
Suzanne's shoulder was holding up well, though it was painful. Deborah was trying to draft, but a random swimmer kept getting between the two of them. Even when they paused to rest, this guy would pause with them, apparently intent on using the draft too. Of course, what guy wouldn't want to squeeze between the Topp sisters? Well, he was an annoyance nonetheless.
Mark was working his way through the slower swimmers of the fourth and even third start waves. He could catch drafts here and there as he passes people. Still, he was at a disadvantage as he had to race against the clock and not other swimmers of his speed. But he swam on.
At last, Alan saw the large buoy #15, the turn buoy. The pack squeezed by and headed for shore. Alan was drafting behind a swimmer who flipped over to do backstroke. What was going on? They were only 500 yards from the finish. Alan looked behind him on the next breath, and realized what was happening. A large wave was above him, crashing down. Too late! Alan was thrown head over heels under the water and over the corral. He popped up and all the swimmers close by were vertical, gagging in the whitewash. After a moment's hesitation, the swimmers raced for shore and crossed the finish. Alan finished with a 1:04, beating his previous time by 4 minutes. He looked around himself at the finish line: the people he finished with were the same people he stood next to on the start beach. It seemed fitting to have swam the race as a group.
Suzanne and Deborah cruised to the finish without problems in the waves. Suzanne finished with a 1:19 and Deborah with a 1:20. Alan met them at the finish line, and they grabbed juice and PowerBars as they waited for Mark. Soon enough, Mark came sprinting across the finish line with a time of 1:23. Mark's family arrived with leis and cameras, and the swimmers basked under the warm sun.
They picked up their t-shirts and got the race results. Alan finished 8th, Suzanne 8th, Deborah 9th, and Mark 27th in their respective age groups. (The results are posted at http://www.wrswim/com). It was a fantastic showing for Team MVM!
Sadly, the vacation in paradise came to an end. The swimmers, now close friends, packed up and headed for the airport. For the second year in a row, Team MVM was well represented at the Maui Channel and Waikiki Roughwater Swims, and the tradition will continue in the year 2000!