Mercer Island 11-year-old is youngest ever to finish New York swimming race

Max Kipust, 11, competed in the annual Brooklyn Bridge swimming race in New York
Max Kipust, 11, competed in the annual Brooklyn Bridge swimming race in New York's East River with his father, Alan Kipust.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Mercer Island is now home to the youngest person ever to compete in the annual, open-water Brooklyn Bridge swimming race in New York's East River. This month, 11-year-old Max Kipust, who swims on the Mercer Island team Olympic Cascade Aquatics, and his father, Alan Kipust, finished the one-kilometer race in about 36.5 minutes, and they said the experience was both a little nerve-wracking and very exciting.

"It's an incredible spectacle because there's the New York skyline and you're under this big, old, beautiful bridge about to dive into a commercial waterway," said Alan, who used to live in Brooklyn before moving to Mercer Island. "It's noisy; there's trains around, it's very dynamic and it's very New York."

He said that he and Max first decided to do the race when they found out that it coincided with a planned trip to New York to visit family. "My dad told me about it, and I thought it sounded exciting because it was swimming across a river," said Max.

He said he had never raced in open water before this event, and, for one thing, the water was colder than the pools he was used to.

"I think the biggest difference was probably the temperature," he said.

Hannah Borgeson, from NYC Swim, the organization that hosts the Brooklyn Bridge race, said the event is a difficult one because competitors have to deal with current, chop and sometimes flotsam in the waterway.

"Although it's short, it is challenging because it's crossing a channel rather than going with the northbound or southbound flow of the tide, and because it's a lot of people," she said.

Borgeson said usually about 400 people compete in the race.

She said NYC Swim has had children close to Max's age ask to participate in events before, and although the race is usually for people who are 15 years old or older, they allowed Max to compete because he met the qualifying requirements like everyone else.

According to the NYC Swim Web site, competitors must have participated in a recent open-water swim or triathlon or have swum a continuous mile in a pool in under 45 minutes in order to enter the Brooklyn Bridge race.

Alan Kipust said his biggest concern wasn't whether Max would be able to finish the race, but whether he would be able to get in good enough swimming shape to do so himself.

"He's been practicing for years, and I got in the pool about a week and a half prior," said Alan Kipust. "My initial concern was, can I keep up with him?"

During the race itself, he said, the current made it hard to follow the shadow of the bridge as they'd intended to do across the river, and the water was a bit choppy.

Overall, though, Alan said swimming in salt water added a little extra buoyancy — the water was clean and he wasn't worried about Max getting across safely.

"We had a plan where he would stay to my right side so I could see him, every stroke," Alan said. "Fortunately, he wasn't sprinting — that would have been a lot harder on me."

As for Max, he said he knew he could make it the whole time.

"I was just thinking about getting to the other side," he said.

According to the official results, Max and Alan Kipust finished 351 and 352 out of 366 swimmers who made it across. Eighteen competitors withdrew.

Alan said it was a strange feeling to climb out of the river at last.

"You have silt all over your body, and when you first step on ground, your body is used to rocking from the waves and the current," he said. "It's hard to stand up at first."

One of the best parts of the experience, Alan said, was the number of people who came up to Max after the event to congratulate him for finishing.

"They said good job and stuff like that," said Max. "It made me feel good."

Alan and Max both said they were glad they had done the race and they would recommend it.

"If you can swim anywhere, why not swim around something important and exciting?" said Alan.

He said NYC Swim runs a longer race around the Statue of Liberty as well.

As for his and Max's racing plans, Alan said so far they're not sure what they'll do next, but chances are they'll both keep swimming.

"We don't have anything booked yet, but we're always scouting," he said.

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