An 8-mile open-ocean swim attracted 154 athletes Saturday to raise awareness of the need to preserve six aging lighthouses off the Florida Keys.
Dale LeClair, 43, of Boca Raton, Fla., completed the inaugural Alligator Reef Lighthouse Swim in 4 hours, 49 minutes and 37 seconds. But the winning four-person team was put together by local Mike Walsh, owner of Otherside Boardsports in the Upper Keys.
“When I heard about the race, I knew that I wanted to do it, challenge myself,” he said. “I mentioned it in passing to a friend and he also said he wanted to do it.”
Little did Walsh know, Brett Irvin was a collegiate swimmer. Irvin contacted two of his friends, also collegiate swimmers — Andrew Greener and Emilienne Allen of West Palm Beach — and the swim was on: The “Dirty Pirates” team were the first swimmers to cross the finish line in a time of 4 hours, 26 minutes.
“Swimming with those other professional swimmers, I didn’t want to be the team embarrassment, so I started training and swam hard on the day of the race,” Walsh said.
“Lighthouse” Larry Herlth said it was an amazing day.
“It just went beautifully. I don’t think we could have asked for a better day,” Herlth said. “I think we’re going to have a lot more swimmers next year.”
Founders Park swimming coach and Olympic medalist Jon Olsen said he was particularly happy for Kelsea Volland. The 16-year-old Coral Shores swimmer placed second in her solo division, was the fourth woman through the finish gate and was ninth overall.
“I don’t care how old you are. To do a swim like that is an accomplishment,” Olsen said.
Other Keys competitors included:
• Sarah Maschal, the coach of the Marathon High School swim team, placed 11th overall with a time of 5 hours, 39 minutes. She was first in her division (female ages 15 to 39) and the sixth female solo finisher.
• Sugarloaf Key’s William Welzien, 63, finished in 5 hours, 54 for an 18th overall place finish, and third in his division (male 50 and over).
• “Lighthouse” Larry Herlth, 53, one of the creators of the event, finished in 6 hours, and 53 minutes.
• Rob Dixon, 52, of Islamorada finished in 7 hours, 17 minutes.
• Brandi Simpson and Weekly Editor Sara Matthis of Marathon placed 9th in a field of 12 for the two-person relay team. They finished in 6 hours, 17 minutes.
• The Fighting Manatees — Beth Kaminstein, Jeremy Linn, Eliza Colmes and Jon Olsen — finished in 5 hours, 9 minutes for a fourth place finish among four-member teams.
• The Fighting Notso Manatees of Islamorada finished in 5 hours, 13 minutes. The team included Larry Chase, Travis Yednak, Katy LeVasseur and Elizabeth Baxter.
• Las Quatro Sirenas of Key Largo — Alexandra Fitzgerald, Clarice Strang, Elizabeth Schemper Douma, and Chris Wilson — finished in 6 hours, four minutes.
• The Islamorada team, Class of 1968 included Jim Mooney, Robert Foley, Sarah Roach and Ken Knudsen. They finished in 6 hours, 24 minutes and 4 seconds.
• The Bay and Reef Company finished in 6 hours, 24 minutes and 6 seconds. They were: Albert Nuñez Xavier Figueredo, Elizabeth Jolin and Wendell Karcher.
• The Aqua Lungs of Islamorada — Michelle De La Torre, Sue Baker Batsford, Mercy Guevara, and Isa Upchurch — finished in 6 hours, 35 minutes.
The race was conceived by Herlth, who is passionate about saving the historic lighthouses off the Florida Keys. Each more than 100 years old, they are no longer fully maintained because of modern advances in maritime navigation. The event was based at The Moorings resort on the Atlantic Ocean.
The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.