Lisal Smith ’07 Takes First In La Jolla Ocean Swim

Lisal Smith ’07, an economics major, won first-place in the master’s women’s division of the La Jolla Rough Water competition held last week in La Jolla. The annual ocean swim draws about 2,000 competitors. Smith, who entered the race with a handful of past and present Athenas by her side, also finished first in her age group, beating out more than 370 swimmers in her division to claim victory in the one-mile race.

“I’m sure that everyone’s intention was to have some fun with an ocean swim,” CMS head swimming coach Charlie Griffiths said of the results. “Once the race starts, though, it gets competitive. If you put Athenas into a body of water, they’ll try to find a way to come out victorious.”

“Lisal’s win is significant,” says former CMS swimmer Lou Caron ’80. “The ocean swimming circuit in Southern California is incredibly competitive, with many ex-NCAA Division I swimmers competing. Most of the top-finishers are well into their 30s.”

Other CMS participants included Erica Anderson and Gwen Kremer, both Class of 2008, and Megan Yarnall ’06 (HMC). Former CMS swimmer Suzy Nicoletti ’02 placed second overall behind Smith in the master’s women’s division, and first in her age group. She entered the La Jolla competition a week after the 9-mile relay Maui Channel ocean Swim (http://www.mauichannelswim.com), where she and master’s division teammate Lou Caron took first place. Also competing in that race was Kris Behrens ’97.

Smith credits Nicoletti for passing along valuable advice about the La Jolla competition, including tips, techniques, and a knowledge of competitors and their strategies. “She also was wearing a bright, tie-dye swim suit, which helped me spot her throughout the race,” Smith says. “We were in the same lead pack and I swam near her for almost the entire race. I was a lot more comfortable knowing that I had a fellow Athena next to me, who was experienced with the course.”

The ocean swim was Smith’s first, though she has competed in other open-water events, including the annual Lake Berryessa swim in her hometown of Davis, Calif. To prepare for La Jolla (http://www.ljrws.com/), Smithnamed CMC Female Athlete of the Year in 2004stuck to her usual high-intensive training regime: swim workouts, weight-lifting and dry land prep (running, stadiums, abdominal work). The day before the race, she practiced the “look and swim” technique for 100 meters. “In ocean swimming you have to look over the water to see where you are going,” Smith says. “The course is marked only by two buoys. Look-swim is when you lift your head to see in front of you, and then breathe. It engages muscles that you never use in regular pool swimming, which is why I couldn’t lift my arms for quite a while after the race.”

Other significant differences between pool and ocean swimming, she says: difficulty in navigating, fish-sightings, full contact swimming (“there were many bumps with other swimmers, so my water polo background really helped me with that”), waves “constantly smashing you in the face,” and the salt water, which “makes your stomach ache.” Encounters with jellyfish, tiger sharks, and other predators of the deep also have been known to increase the level of anxiety for ocean competitors.

Nicoletti, who continues to swim regularly post-CMC, says living in the Los Angeles area has united her with other former CMS swimmers, including Caron and Behrens, who also continue to travel and compete. “It’s impressive that the CMC connection remains so strong throughout the generations, bringing us together to share something we’re so passionate about.”

She says Smith’s victory in the water was particularly impressive, given that it was her first ocean swim.

“I explained the basic layout of the course when we got there,” said Nicoletti, a La Jolla veteran who placed first and second in her first two races there. “But she really took the initiative to pull away from the group toward the end of the race, and win. I think that is something that takes a lot of confidenceswimming out there alone, taking the leadbecause the perspective is certainly not the same as it would be in the pool.”

“Hats off to Lisal,” Caron says. “I really hope that we will see other swimming alumni join the ranks of the masters swimmers, too.”