The Jasper native, who had already participated in open-water swims at both Alcatraz Island in San Francisco and Bermuda, was looking for his next venture when he came across Swim the Island in an open-water magazine.
After some research on the internet, Arnold, his wife and friend Penny Manual were heading to Italy.
A storm had hit the area days prior to the swim, cooling the water, but that didn’t deter Arnold, who swam the event without a wetsuit.
“When they told the water temperature, my wife said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I’m swimming. I didn’t train all that time for nothing. I’m getting in this water and I’m going to swim,” Arnold said.
Despite less-than-ideal water conditions — the temperature was 69 degrees — Arnold took part in the 1,800-meter event, completing the course in less than 58 minutes.
“My wife had asked me, ‘How long will it take you (to finish)?’ I said it will take me 45 minutes or so. She started getting worried when she saw the 50-minute mark,” Arnold added. “I was worried out there, too. The wind was blowing. I thought, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ I looked to my side and saw other swimmers and they weren’t going anywhere either. We were going to the current and it was all we could do to get there. It’s a challenge, but that’s why you do it.”
More than 300 swimmers took part in the 1,800-meter race. As a safety precaution, there were people on jet skis and kayaks keeping on eye on the swimmers. Also, spotters were on a nearby mountain top keeping tabs on the competitors.
Arnold, who recently retired from Bevill State, where he was the director of computer services, took to the water to keep in shape. He can be found at the Memorial Park Natatorium for early-morning swims several times a week.
He says there is nothing quite like participating in open swims.
“I can swim in the river. I can swim in the lake and I can swim here (the Memorial Park Natatorium), but when you have mother nature and you get out in the ocean with the current, you have to change your whole style,” Arnold said. “The water activity that day was real rough. I had to look to one side because the waves kept hitting me in the face. That’s something you don’t have to deal with most the time. It’s very unique.”
Now, Arnold is taking to the water at the Memorial Park Natatorium, to help others prepare for distance swimming.
The natatorium is holding a 12-week training program for an open-water mile swim beginning Jan. 20. The only cost is a $3 natatorium membership. Those interested can take part in either the 5:30 a.m. class or the 8 a.m. class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Along with Arnold, Lisa Barnett, Chip Graham and Ginger Odom completed the last 12-week session.
“It’s progressive. The first day is 1,300 meters. It ends up at 2,500 meters,” Arnold said. “Every session is different. We practice holding your breath as long as you can while swimming. We practice swimming with your head up, so you can pull your head up every third stroke and look up. When you are in the ocean, you don’t have any lane lines. That is one of the hardest things to do is train for the unknown conditions. We have people coming to train for a triathlon. It’s great training with someone who wants to do that. It’s also great to get in shape with.
“I guarantee by the time you finish up the 12 weeks, you will know it. It’s hard to prepare for a race like this and swim year round if you don’t have facilities. We are very fortunate to have great facilities such as the natatorium.”
To view a short video clip of the Swim the Island race, go to http://www.vimeo.com/78801076.