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Going the Distance

Varsity swim team members will swim 26.2 miles next Friday To raise money for charity

By Eun J. Lee

features editor

Nicholas O. Sidelnik ’05, like many other athletes in the area, is training for the marathon, but unlike the rest of the pack, he plans to race his 26.2 miles underwater.

Next Friday, Sidelnik, along with other members of the varsity men’s and women’s swim teams, will be swimming 26.2 miles, or 1,729 laps, at the Zesiger Center pool to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society of America.

“It seemed like a great chance to do something good for the community,” said Sidelnik, who is organizing the event. “It’s a very worthwhile organization.”

The marathon swimmers plan to set up a table on the first floor of the Student Center from Tuesday to Thursday of next week to raise money for the charity.

Marathon may last up to 20 hours

“There’s really not very much to it,” said Christopher G. Lucas ’03, who will be joining Sidelnik on Friday. “We want to push ourselves, see what we can do, and have a memorable experience.”

The marathon will begin bright and early at 6 a.m., and special arrangements have been made with the Z-Center to keep the 50-meter pool open for the swimmers until 1:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Sidelnik anticipates that they will keep up with the 1,729 laps by swimming one mile at a time or doing repeats of 4 lap increments and keeping track with a lap counter. “I’m an MIT student -- I can count pretty high,” he said in response to whether or not he was worried about losing track of the number of completed laps.

Currently Sidelnik and Lucas are the only team members who have committed to swimming the full distance, but recruitment will be ongoing until Friday. Regardless, other swim team members will most likely come show their support by cheering and watching or swimming segments of the marathon with their teammates.

Preparing for 26.2 miles of swimming

In preparation for the marathon, Sidelnik and Lucas have been training since the varsity swim season ended three weeks ago, swimming up to 4 miles a day.

“Nick and Chris always try to push themselves harder than everyone and also match each other. It’s very rare to see athletes complete in that way. ... It’s a distant coach’s dream to see people with that mentality -- it sets a good example for other team members and motivates everyone else,” said Assistant Men’s Swim Coach Abe Rogers.

Despite their rigorous training, Friday’s marathon will be the farthest either of them has ever swum.

During the varsity swim season, Sidelnik competes in the distance freestyle and butterfly and Lucas, who will be graduating this year, swam the 200-yard butterfly and the 1,650 freestyle.

The largest distance Lucas has covered swimming in a day is 14,000 yards (the marathon will be around 46,000 yards ), and Sidelnik swam 10 miles in a race across Boston Harbor last summer.

“It’s difficult to train for a marathon swim because no one’s going to train by going out 26 miles, kind of like a marathon run. You build up enough endurance by training every day so when you need to [go the full distance] your body can handle it,” Rogers said.

On Thursday night, Sidelnik and Lucas’s plans include eating big pasta dinners and getting plenty of sleep.

Sidelnik plans to swim English Channel

Friday’s marathon will bring Sidelnik one step closer to a higher goal that he hopes to reach -- swimming across the English Channel. For the past year, he has been making plans to swim across the channel, a distance of 23.69 miles in water at temperatures around 60 degrees, this coming summer.

The low temperature of the water is normally the biggest obstacle that swimmers face when trying to cross the English Channel.

“Whether or not you’re swimming, being in the [cold] water that long will be a challenge and take its toll on the human body,” Rogers said.

“The English Channel is really cold, and I respect it, but I wouldn’t say that I’m prepared to give it a shot,” Lucas said.

The dream of swimming the channel came closer to reality when Sidelnik met two competitors at the Boston Harbor race who had swum the Channel and showed him the logistics for planning such a trip, including recruiting a support group, hiring a boat, and garnering supplies.

“[Swimming the English Channel] is kind of like the Mount Everest of swimming,” said Sidelnik, who has been swimming competitively since the age of 7. “It’s on my list of long-term goals. I have the time now, and I’m in good shape, so I don’t really see the need to wait.”

In addition to Friday’s marathon, he plans to prepare for his English Channel swim by swimming 28.5 miles around Manhattan Island at a race in June.

“In an event like this where you’re going for a long time for yourself, mental preparation is important,” Rogers said. “Nick’s the type of person who can handle it -- he’s mentally prepared and definitely motivated.”