By Gavin Menu
The goal of the Montauk Ocean Swim Challenge at Ditch Plains beach on Saturday was to raise money for new aquatic and cultural centers at the Montauk Community Playhouse, which over the last eight years has raised roughly $2 million toward the project.
The celebration, however, was for the pursuit of swimming itself.
“I always make sure I’m here every year for this race,” said Rod McClave, a former triathlete who has dominated long-distance swims on the East End for the last several years, and who was the first swimmer to emerge from the ocean on Saturday.
“This is the safest race there is anywhere, which is the most important thing,” he added, giving credit to the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad, which had an army of current and former lifeguards patrolling the rolling waves off Ditch early Saturday morning. “These guys put on the best open water swim around.”
By the time the event’s three swims were completed, which included distances of 5 kilometers (3.2 miles) and separate 1-mile and 1/2-mile swims, the beach was filled with swimmers young and old beaming with pride over their accomplishments.
There was a potential passing of the torch moment at the head of the pack when McClave welcomed 18 year-old Thomas Brierley to the beach. Brierley, a long-time star of the East Hampton YMCA Hurricanes and East Hampton High School swim team, finished second in the 5K with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 12 seconds, which put him six minutes behind McClave’s winning time.
“I couldn’t even see him,” Brierley said about any thought he might have had early on about a potential pursuit of McClave.
But while McClave, 40, recently retired as a competitive triathlete, Brierley in the fall will attend Marymount College as a member of the first-ever National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) triathlon team. He is also a lifeguard and one of the youngest members of the Ocean Rescue Squad.
Finishing 31 seconds behind Brierley was Taylor Armstrong, 20, a soon-to-be junior at Rice University and a member of the school’s Division I swim program. Armstrong is a native of New Zealand and travels to the East End to visit friends every summer. For obvious reasons, she fit naturally into the local community of swimmers and lifeguards on Saturday.
“I leave for home today, but I had to schedule this in,” Armstrong said about Saturday’s swim. “It’s an amazing event and a great swim.”
Lori King of Rockville Centre was the second female to finish the 5K, doing so in 1:12:01, while Elke Hofmann, Laura Currey and Marcie Honerkamp rounded out the top five female finishers in the 5K.
Finishing behind McClave and Brierley in the men’s division was Mike Cash, who came through with a time of 1:11:36. Michael Petrzeio finished fourth and Robert Toedter finished fifth.
Martin Hermann, 44, of Westport was the top swimmer in the 1-mile race, posting a time of 24 minutes and 39 seconds. Andrew Winthrop, 18, of East Hampton finished second in 25:04 and Kenneth Moore finished third in 25:15.
The top female swimmer in the 1-mile event was Angelika Cruz, finishing eighth overall with a time of 26:33. Abigail Doyle and Kathleen Uckert rounded out the top three female finishers.
In the 1/2-mile, 16-year-old Wainscott resident Amanda Calabrese finished first overall with a time of 12 minutes and 31 seconds. Maggie Purcell, 14, of Southampton finished second in 12:58 and Theodore Calabrese, 30, finished third in 13:04.
The next five swimmers to finish—Audrey Taplitz, Elsie Williams, Julia Brierley, Evie Purcell and Hank Sweeney—were all under the age of 12.
Maureen Rutkowski, the program director at the Montauk Community Playhouse, said there’s a “want and a need for another pool on the East End, and this event is helping us get closer,” adding that Saturday’s turnout was the event’s biggest ever.
Rutkowski could not estimate how much more money is needed to begin work on the aquatic center as the foundation continues to gather information and make plans to best serve the community. Tom Cohill, who coaches the Hurricanes swim team, did say on Saturday that the YMCA aquatic center is “completely maxed out.”
“Our big word is sustainability,” Rutkowski said when asked about the Montauk project. “We’re working with some consultants and they’re coming in with plans and designs based on our program needs.”
For complete results from Saturday’s race visit www.prtiming.com/montaukoceanswim2014results.