While dog mushers were heading toward the finish line in Nome, two swimmers in the Nikiski Pool's Idita-Swim program were paddling their way there as well -- with laps in the pool representing the miles of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
"We're trying to promote physical fitness through aquatics in the spirit of the Last Great Race," said Nigel Lariccia, the Nikiski pool supervisor. He said that the program pushes swimmers a little harder to put in extra laps by having the end goal.
Lariccia explained that Idita-Swim participants swim 1,112 laps to represent the distance equivalent of mushing miles on the trail. In the Nikiski Pool 36 laps equals about one mile, so when all is said and done Idita-Swim racers have swam about 30 miles.
Alexius Sacaloff, 43, winner of the Nikiski Pool Idita-Swim program for the "Swing Dogs" 18-59 age group, said that she can sympathize with dog mushers after the long-distance swim. She actually finished her laps last Friday, beating her record from last year and before 2010 Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey made it to Nome.
"It's hard. It's not so easy," said the North Kenai resident.
Last year, Sacaloff came in 68 laps behind the winner and that's what inspired her, a recovering diabetic, to swim this year.
Sacaloff said she started off enthusiastic about the challenge, but then there were some days "she never wanted to swim again." She almost scratched a few times but pulled through to not only finish first, but to best other participants in her age group by hundreds of laps.
One thing that kept Sacaloff going was her underwater MP3 player that attaches to her goggles and sends sound waves through the cheekbones. She said that while she listened to lots of Lil' Wayne in the water, she also listened to songs to motivate her to get to the checkpoints, like "Up on Cripple Creek" and "North to Alaska." "Eye of the Tiger" was her driving soundtrack for the last few laps to Nome.
Calling the experience an "epic adventure," Sacaloff said that anybody who "has the heart to sign up for Idita-Sport events are winners."
Bob Reichert, 71, was the fastest Idita-Swimmer for the "Lead Dogs" 60-plus age group. He said he walked the majority of his laps in the water.
Reichert, of Nikiski, got a taste of victory after he got a silver medal in the Nikiski Pool's Olympic Seniors pool walk so he wanted to get a gold this time, he said. Reichert finished the contest on Wednesday.
Lariccia said that so far none of the 15 participants have scratched, but no one else is close to swimming to Nome yet.
He said he'd like to see the program expand in the future.
"We did extend it out to other pools this year but didn't hear back," he said. "We're trying to push the program to go out to the whole Peninsula."
Lariccia said the competition, currently in its second year, continues through the end of April.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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