'12-Bridge Swim' again starts at Sellwood Bridge
As dawn broke on Sunday morning, July 8, the parking lot at Sellwood Riverfront Park was already filled to overflowing with vehicles. And, by 7:00 a.m. that morning, some 100 swimmers and kayakers had taken over the park.
"This is the eighth year of the 'Portland Bridge Swim' – a marathon swimming race in the Willamette River, starting under the Sellwood Bridge, and going north through the heart of Portland," explained its organizer, Marisa Freider. Every year, the starting point is at Sellwood Riverfront Park, just north of the Sellwood Bridge.
Alluding to the fact that the park looked more like a "kayak convention" than a swim meet at that hour, Freider told THE BEE, "We always have one kayak assigned for the safety of each swimmer. It does look like a flotilla on the river out there, with each kayaker keeping an eye on their assigned swimmer all of the time."
This swimming marathon isn't a casual event, as was "The Big Float" held the next weekend on the river, Freider pointed out. "We are proud to host the U.S. Masters Swimming National Championship Ultramarathon Distance race!"
People from around the globe traveled to Portland specifically for this race, which is described as "Part nature experience, part sight-seeing tour, and all physical and mental challenge".
Custom-printed shirts put it more succinctly – with text on the front reading, "What was I thinking?" and, on the reverse: "11 miles; 12 bridges; No Chickens".
After finishing in the previous Bridge Swims, back again this year was the oldest of the one hundred registered racers, 70-year-old David Poulshock of Southeast Portland. He didn't win, but he came in with a respectable time of 6:30:32.
The race's overall winner was 27-year-old Galen Sollom-Brotherton, who completed the race in just under four hours. It took over twice that time – 8:10:54 – for the last-place swimmer to complete the swim. Only six entrants didn't finish the race.
Why do the participants do this? "Marathon swimming is a lonely event; but here in Portland, swimmers compete with views of the city and with spectators along the way and on the bridges, so it's a much more energizing experience for them," Freider smiled.