NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Under beautiful blue skies and loads of golden sunshine, the waters churned with excitement in the sort of New Year's workout that only a swimmer could appreciate.
"What they are doing is we are celebrating the year 2013 with 13 thousand yards of swimming in three hours and 15 minutes," said stopwatch-toting Coach Casey Claflin, ever mindful of the pace his team had to keep to maintain their eyes-on-the-prize goal.
Starting Monday at 8 am, 20 members of the New Port Richey Branch of Tampa Bay Aquatics jumped into the blessedly "heated" outdoor pool for a long winter's swim…one that added up to nearly 7.4 miles of water-churning kicking and stroking. That total is not for all 20 swimmers here, that's per person each swimmer covering that ground… but each swimmer says they're up for it.
"I love the sport," said swimmer Austin Wojkiewicz. "I love swimming every day, it's just what I do."
And on this last day of 2012, they were doing it for a reason. You could say they were making a "splash" to keep things going after changes in operations of the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center forced the team and its coach to find funding elsewhere. This swim not only bringing attention to the plight, but also to test the waters for possible per-lap fundraising which could add up eventually.
"These are all competitive swimmers," said Coach Claflin. "They've chosen to be the best they can be at swimming, and they show up 5-6 days a week and swim anywhere from 3-4 miles on any given day."
So this doubled distance of 7.4 miles -- or 13 thousand yards -- is definitely doable for the highly conditioned "ready-for-a-challenge" sorts here.
"What kind of celebration is that?" I asked an all-out-of-breath Austin, just as he was about to start another lap. "It's the only one I know."
By 11:15 they were done. Mission accomplished. Of course, they'll be back again tomorrow.
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UPDATE: The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 twister with winds of at least 200 mph.