Last Sunday, four swim-capped heads bobbed in the West Canal, a section of Absecon Island’s bay that separates Ventnor Heights from the marshes that stretch toward Margate. The swimmers followed a boat and each trailed behind them a large, fluorescent-yellow float. Other water users may have wondered what the strange procession was about.
The swimmers are local high school students and on Tuesday, August 9, they will form a relay team to take part in the Jim Whelan Open Water Festival‘s signature event, the 56th Around The Island Swim. They are training to each swim a section of the 22.75 miles (36.6 kilometers) race around Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate and Longport.
“We’ve been swimming all our lives, so it’s not really that different for us. We’re kind of used to swimming for long periods of time,” James Haney, 16 years old, told a media gathering last month. “It won’t be too hard for us, hopefully. We’ll all be together and we’ll have the support of each other.”
“Team Thunderdome” includes Haney and John Sahl, 16, who both attend Atlantic City High School, as well as two Ocean City High School students; Gavin Neal, 16, and Patrick Armstrong, 16. All four are local beach patrol lifeguards or lifeguards in training. The team was formed by and is coached by Joe Haney, who was on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol.
The Brigantine-based swim foundation Green Whales, Inc, is hosting the festival. Green Whales is a nonprofit that funds swimming lessons for Atlantic City school students and a Special Olympics swim team.
The first swim race around Absecon Island took place in 1953 when two Atlantic City Beach Patrol members, Ed “Dutch” Stetser and Edward Solitaire, swam to win a $100 bet. (Solitaire won in 13 hours and 30 minutes, Stetser was an hour behind).
Green Whales restarted the historic race in honor of former Atlantic City Beach Patrolman and New Jersey Senator Jim Whelan, who taught hundreds of Atlantic City school children to swim.