Local swimmers ready for Smith Lake relay

Posted 8/22/18

A group of swimmers have been training for months to do something that has never been attempted in Lewis Smith Lake's nearly 60-year history — swim the length of it.The "Swim the Smith" relay will …

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Local swimmers ready for Smith Lake relay


A group of swimmers have been training for months to do something that has never been attempted in Lewis Smith Lake's nearly 60-year history — swim the length of it.

The "Swim the Smith" relay will begin Thursday morning about five miles upstream from Lakeshore Inn in Double Springs and will end Friday at the boat ramp by Smith Lake Dam.

"I'm not looking at it as a 35-mile swim," said Angela Jo Harris, a backup swimmer who found out two weeks ago that she would be replacing injured team member Randy Wilhite. "My goal is to complete the swim and to concentrate on swimming one hour at a time. If you just think about the moment you're in, you'll be successful."

Local dentist Amanda Darty will hit the water first. 

One of the strongest swimmers on the six-member team, Darty is participating in the relay to celebrate turning 40 this year.

She began swimming competitively with the Jasper Swim Team when she was 9 years old and continued through high school.

Last year, she joined the U.S. Masters swim team, a group of adult swimmers based at Memorial Park Natatorium.

Darty said she is much more comfortable as a swimmer than as a runner. 

"I've always been that person who gets on a boat and goes out on the ocean, and I look to see if I jumped from here, could I make it to the shore," she said.

After completing a half marathon for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in December, she began looking for opportunities to swim a 5K.

"Swim the Smith" seemed like the perfect challenge.

Unlike some of her fellow swimmers, Darty isn't fazed by the challenge of swimming at night or the thought of creatures lurking below the surface of the water.

She is concerned, however, about swimming as straight as possible. Kayakers have been recruited to help the swimmers stay on course.

After months of training, Darty said Tuesday afternoon that she and her fellow swimmers are ready for the challenge that awaits them. 

"I've said for three or four weeks now, 'If I could jump in and start now, I'd take off.' We're ready. We'll be fine,"she said.   

After swimming the first hour of the relay, Darty will take her place on a pontoon boat alongside the other swimmers and will be replaced in the water by Ginger Odom.

Odom, a 61-year-old former competitive swimmer who returned to the water in 2013, shares Darty's concerns about limited visibility when swimming in open water.

"It's different because all you see is green when you put your face in the water. In the pool, at least you can see what's going on around you. I'm just going to have to forget what I don't see in the lake and keep my eye on the kayak to keep me on a straight path," Odom said.

On Tuesday, Odom was resting while also trying to decide what to pack for a boat ride that will last more than 24 hours. After leaving the water, each swimmer will have five hours to rest and replenish before entering the water again.

"I'm trying to figure out what I need to take to eat without taking too much," she said. 

Odom will be followed by Christie Blankenship, who had to relearn the swimming techniques of her childhood when she began training for a sprint triathlon in 2017.

Blankenship credits Danny Arnold, the team's coach, with helping her improve.

"That first day that I got in the water last March, I made it 25 yards across and  yelled back to him, 'I feel like an asthmatic!' I didn't know if I would make it back across. It's been a year of hard work and dedication. Now I can swim six miles. I think that's the farthest we've gone," Blankenship said.

Blankenship isn't worried about being the fastest swimmer on the team. Her goal is to make it at least a mile and a half each time she is in the water.

Her husband, Stephen, and their 19-year-old son Eli will be volunteering as kayakers for the event.  

Blankenship was sitting on go Wednesday afternoon.

"This time next week it'll be done and we'll be wishing we had it to do over again. This is a great group. I can't wait to spend time with them on the boat," she said.

Shannon Day will follow Blankenship into the water.

Day will also have family to accompany her on the swim. Her husband, local photographer Scott Day, will be capturing the start and finish of the event.

Day started swimming in March 2017. She confesses that it does not come nearly as naturally to her as running does.

"When you run, you can talk to people. When you're swimming, it's you, yourself and your bubbles. It's also been a more technical sport for me. I love to swim, but it's been different," she said.

The start of the "Swim the Smith" event coincides with her 16-year-old son's birthday. A mother of five, Day said she hopes that her children, who range in age from 3 to 16, will be inspired to dream big after watching their mother take on big challenges.

"I'm 43. I want them to realize that if I can do this and learn something at this point in life, they should be able to do big things now. I want them to dream big, and I want to set an example for them," Day said.

Harris, a triathlete, will be next in line. 

She has been swimming competitively since 2010. She completed her first sprint distance triathlon in 2012 and finished third in her age group. In recent years, she has competed in multiple sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, seven half Ironmans and one full Ironman, in which participants swim, bike and run for 140.6 miles.

Harris trained as a backup for the "Swim the Smith" event and became the replacement for Wilhite when he had to drop out due to injury. 

Like Darty, Harris is participating in the event to mark an important milestone. She turned 50 in June and challenged herself to experience new things. Swimming Smith Lake is on the same list as visiting Alaska and racing in Japan.

In addition to training, Harris had been working behind the scenes to work out logistical and safety concerns regarding the event.

Though jitters are to be expected from team members, Harris said she has urged her fellow swimmers to trust their training. 

"Experience will take over fear. They're all going to be fine," she said.

The final member of the team is Brad Adkins, a teacher and coach at Lupton. Adkins started swimming in 2013 in preparation for a sprint triathlon and completed a half Ironman in 2014.

"Swim the Smith" is the brainchild of Arnold, who has completed open water swims at Alcatraz, Bermuda, Barbados and Italy since 2007. The swim is doubling as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society .

A link has been posted on the event's Facebook page, Swim the Smith, so that all who are interested can track the swim team's progress.