SwimmingTaking On the S.C.A.R. Challenge: A Major Open-Water Demand

Taking On the S.C.A.R. Challenge: A Major Open-Water Demand


Taking On the S.C.A.R. Challenge: A Major Open-Water Demand

Many marathon swimmers look for new and unusual challenges. One of the very different challenges is S.C.A.R., which is four marathon swims in four days. This event is held in the Southwestern desert of the United States in the Salt River near Phoenix Arizona. Dams have created a series of lakes which make up S.C.A.R – Saguaro Lake (13.3 km); Canyon (14.1 km); Apache (22.8 km); and Roosevelt Lake (10 km). The swim distances are longer, but the sport measures distances as the shortest possible route.

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A big plus is getting to know, over a period of perhaps five or six days, 50 other swimmers and 70 kayakers and other volunteers. The friendships made over breakfast and dinner with different groups, finding new sunscreen buddies before every swim and common moans about tiredness will restart in the future at different events around the world. The debt owed to the volunteer kayakers each day turns formerly “prima donna” swimmers into future volunteers

The sun is always scorching, and the water temperature variable (17 to 21 C/ 62 to 70 F), with occasional dips to 13 C/55 F. The swimmer imagines that the wind is always against them. Swimmers quickly learn new lessons: Sunscreen applied to new places; hydration differences in the hot sun; and the futility of looking ahead, with the fourth swim in darkness.

The challenge was created by Triple Crown (2014) swimmer Kent Nichols who used these lakes for his training for the English and Catalina Channels and Around Manhattan. It started in 2014 and 2022 marked the ninth year. Hundreds have now completed the challenge and hundreds more have it on their wish list.

All open water swims have surprises. (We’ll leave out the rattlesnake swimming over to the ending pontoon for another time. And let’s leave out the buzzards circling the slowest swimmer one year). In 2022, the swimmers faced a very different surprise. Canyon Lake is one of the most beautiful places in the world and on Day Two, the 14.1 km swim is a good ramp-up to the much longer Apache Lake swim on Day Three. The swim is downstream with view of magnificent cliffs, cactus and even bighorn sheep – all in stunning sunlight.

Well, in 2022, the swim ended in less than 300 meters for the slower swimmers, who didn’t pay Canyon sufficient respect and didn’t employ current minimization tactics. The power company uses a continuous supply of nuclear power to pump water back up into the lakes to be released at peak times to generate hydro power. On this day, the water coming up was much colder and reversed the flow of the Salt River. The swimmers faced a very tough down river start into a strong flow and unless you had a certain speed or managed to hug a bank, you went backwards. More lessons learned for all! The common reaction (after some disappointment and choice words) was: “I’ll be back.”

The social activities are fantastic and at the end, the male and female swimmers with the fastest combined times are awarded a silver belt buckle. It is one of the few awards that one can wear forever to sports dinners and get a serious nod of respect.





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