Mercer Island's Opdycke completes swimming’s triple crown

MIHS grad Rendy Opdycke swims the Catalina Channel off the Coast of Los Angeles, Calif. - Contributed photo
MIHS grad Rendy Opdycke swims the Catalina Channel off the Coast of Los Angeles, Calif.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Mercer Island High School graduate Rendy Opdycke swam the Catalina Channel, from Catalina Island to the California mainland, in eight hours and 28 minutes on Aug. 9. It is the third fastest time for a woman and the sixth fastest time overall, out of 145 people who have swam the channel solo since 1927.

With this swim, Opdycke became only the second swimmer to complete the “Triple Crown” in less than a year. The “Triple Crown” of marathon swimming consists of the 28.5 mile Manhattan Island Marathon, the 21-mile English Channel, and the 21-mile Catalina Channel off the coast of Los Angeles. Approximately 25 people have completed this undertaking.

“[The ‘Triple Crown’] was kind of my main goal when I started,” said Opdycke. “It’s not exactly the easiest of feats.”

Opdycke completed all three swims in only 34 days, the shortest calendar time ever for completing the three. She did Manhattan on July 5 and England on July 27. Her total swimming time for completing the three is also the fastest ever, at 26 hours, 50 minutes.

“People I have met have done it and I figured that I had the time after grad school,” said Opdycke, who graduated from MIHS in 2002 and earned a master’s degree at the University of Southern California in post secondary administration and student affairs with an athletic emphasis.

For three to four hours of her English Channel crossing, Opdycke had to fight currents, white caps and wind chop. She also swam one of the longer distances across the Santa Barbara Channel (26 miles) in 2007, making her the first person to complete “The Quad,” which is the “Triple Crown” plus the Santa Barbara Channel. She is the first woman to cross this channel, with a 2007 International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Swim time of 10:51.

It takes a group of people to support a Channel swim. There is a “mother ship”, which is a power boat. This boat provides transportation for the crew during the swim. It also provides navigation and communication with large vessels, which are common in most channels. This is especially true in the English Channel, which is the busiest shipping channel in the world.

Most swims require kayak support for safety and to provide the swimmer with food. The English Channel is too rough for kayaks so the swimmer must take a break for food on the mother ship. Observers are required for all swims.

Opdycke is also a member of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club, which promotes ocean swimming. Another La Jolla Cove Swim Club member, David Clark, traveled to England at his own expense to oversee Opdycke’s Channel swim. He also assisted in her Catalina swim. Clark swam the English Channel in 1988 and since then has supported numerous swimmers in their Channel swims. Paula Selby also assisted in Opdycke’s Catalina swim and like Clark, has assisted many other swimmers in marathon swims.

Opdycke is also a long-distance runner, having completed the Manhattan Island Marathon four times. She was the overall winner in 2006, second in both 2004 and 2007, and fourth in 2008. She also ran the Los Angeles Marathon on March 2 in 5:03:21. This was her first running marathon.

Channel swimming is expensive and an attempt to swim the English Channel costs around $10,000. It must also be arranged six to 12 months in advance. Expenses include a boat and crew, application fees, hotel accommodations and airline tickets.

Since her father passed away in 2006, Opdycke has had no source of funding to continue marathon swimming. Funding and all the planning and arrangements for her “single-summer Triple Crown” were provided by a fellow ocean swimmer who wanted to provide a personal challenge and an opportunity to fulfill her aquatic dreams.

“I am kind of at square one now,” said Opdycke. “It kind of comes down to what I can afford and I have to figure out what I want to do.”

Open water swims made their debut in the Olympics this year in Beijing, China. But the swims were shorter than Opdycke’s recent events. The 10k, or 6.2 mile swim, was the only open water swim at the Olympic games this year.

“My swims were about four to five times that distance so it is a lot different,” said Opdycke.

But the former Islander has not ruled out the 2012 games in London.

“We’ll see,” said Opdycke. “You never know what your future is going to hold.”

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