photo credit by Lizzy Tabor
By Jason Cohen
For Long Valley resident Susan Kirk swimming isn’t about racing or
being the fastest, but rather the experience.
On July 14, Kirk completed her longest swim ever when she swam
The event, which was titled, “20 Bridges,” is 28.5-mile swim around the Big Apple. It featured 10 men and five women from throughout the world, who swam from Battery Park, to the East River, along the Harlem River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek before reaching the Hudson River.
According to New York Open Water, the organization that hosted the
event, Kirk finished in 12th place in 8 hours, 26 minutes and 29 seconds.
This was her first-time swimming around Manhattan solo. In 2012, she did it with a four-person relay with a group called the “Jersey Girls,”
Sarah Clark, Lynn Ascione and Mary Guilfoyle.
“Finishing was my goal,” she said. “I’m not a super-fast swimmer.”
New York Open Water (NYOW) was founded in 2016 by marathon
swimmers David Barra and Rondi Davies and paddler Alex Arevalo. Its mission is to provide swimmers and kayakers with safe, challenging, and open water adventures in and around the waters of New York City and New York State.
“The open water just has so many challenges and it makes it so
interesting,” Kirk said. “It’s also about connecting with nature and being able to experience the beauty we have around us.”
Kirk, 58, explained that swimming around Manhattan was not easy. It was a sweltering hot day of about 90 degrees, there was boat traffic,
dehydration, lack of energy and each body of water had different
temperatures. Throughout the event, kayakers followed the swimmers and each swimmer would stop every 30 minutes with a kayaker for food and water.
She noted that she would not have been able to finish the swim if not for her kayaker Lizzy Tabor.
“I don’t do well warm water so the Harlem River was a challenge for
me,” she said. “The Hudson was physically more demanding, but it was cooler, so I liked it better. It’s really about leaning what works for
While this was her longest swim, this was not her first rodeo in the open water.
On Aug. 4, she swam in the pouring rain from the Verrazano Bridge to Sandy Hook, N.J. While it was only nine miles, it took more than six hours because of the weather and extremely rough current.
She has also participated in a swim in Lego Key, Fla. since 2015; has
been doing a 10- mile swim in Chattanooga, Tenn., in the Tennessee
River since 2014; in 2008 and 2010 did a swim in Bermuda; and does
one several times in Barbados as well.
Kirk grew up Indianapolis, Ind., and swam competitively from age 7 to 12. At 12- years-old, her family relocated to Canada, and she put
swimming on the back burner while she got accustomed and enjoyed life up north.
She didn’t swim in high school nor college and stayed out of the water
until she was 29. In her 20s Kirk was often running and at one point
decided she wanted to do a triathlon. As soon as she began swimming
again she “found her happy place.”
“It was a wonderful welcome back,” Kirk recalled. “I felt right back at
home in the water. As I got more involved with the swimming and
training, I discovered that’s what I wanted to be doing.”
In 1984 she moved to New Jersey with her husband Tom. Five years
later the retired pharmacist joined Master Swimming and has been
swimming ever since. While she swims at the Berkeley Aquatic Facility in New Providence, a pool is not nearly the same an open body, she stressed.
“You get to see and experience things that you can’t do from land,” she said. “On top of that, I swim with a group of people that fosters
friendship and support. You put that all together and it’s a good
She plans to be swimming for several more decades. Her next big swim is Sept. 22 at Seneca Lake, N.Y.