Winners of the 2006 marathon swim around Key West Island Marcos Dias of the Dominican Republic, Carina Bruwer of Cape Town South Africa, and SoHi teacher Jim Barkman.
When Soldotna High School Chemistry and Geometry teacher Jim Barkman went on his summer break, he decided to go for a swim around Key West Island. Barkman a veteran open water swimmer had targeted the popular marathon swim for the experience and had said prior to leaving for the event this summer, “I don’t compete as an open water swimmer any longer so to be safe I’m looking and training for it as a swim even though I tend to be competitive, if I complete the swim in around 5 hours I’ll be satisfied.” It was the first time Barkman had to prepare for a marathon swim in warm waters, “I’m a fan of colder water swims like off the coast of California or Lake Tahoe where the water temperatures may be 50-75 degrees on those swims, but for the Key West swim we’re are told to expect water temperatures up to 86 degrees and that’s pretty extreme and required a different training regimen to prepare for dehydration and over heating. All my training has been done in the Skyview pool and I won’t hit the salt water until I arrive in Key West,” Barkman told reporters in May.
The race held June 10th brought a series of conditions none of the swimmers were able to anticipate, the arrival of tropical storm Alberto. Race organizer Bill Weizden said the conditions were the toughest in the race's 30 year history, "Of the 55 swimmers who started the race, only 39 managed to finish. They had to contend with very rough seas, thunderstorms and poor visibility.” According to Barkman the swimmers had no idea the storm was arriving during the race, “A bunch of the people in the race were actually pulled out early because of the lightening, high winds and waves, toward the end of the race, but I was fortunate enough to be toward the front of the pack so the extreme conditions only hit us about the last two miles and we really had no idea what was coming,” said Barkman.
Barkman’s wife Karla and friend Frank from Seward were in Jim’s support kayak during the race, “We came around a corner of the island with the Atlantic to our left and land to our right and we could actually see the black sky and mist coming toward us and what was most on my mind was helping Jim finish the race, so I asked Frank if I should be scared at this point, and he said well it’s a storm but no need to worry unless lightening strikes, and then within a minute or so the lightening started arching in the sky. I know Jim well enough to know that it would take more than a tropical storm to get him out of the water with only a few miles left to finish so getting him out of the water was never a thought, so we focused on helping him finish. There were times we had some communication issues because it was raining so hard he couldn’t see us, but miraculously the piers I was looking for which marked the end of the race became visible and we were able to finish,” recalled Karla.
Barkman said he knew that he had been swimming in second place for about half of the race and that a woman was very close behind him, “The guy in first was well out in front of me, but I also knew the person behind me a young lady was very close and in fact finished only one minute behind me and I didn’t want to be beat by any girls so I was pretty focused on keeping my place and didn’t give much thought to the storm. It felt great to finish second.” Dominican Republic swimming ace Marcos Diaz was the first to finish the 12.5 mile swim in a time of 3:54:31, with Barkman coming in at 4:38:50 in second place. Carina Bruwer finished at 4:39:50. Capetonian marathon swimmer Carina Bruwer was the first female, and the third swimmer overall, to finish the gruelling 20km swim race around Key West Island. Barkman said he is considering some other open water events, but most likely will not return to Key West next year.
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