Around the Island in 11 days Swimmers chase yellow thong for good cause

By Matt Phelps' email='

Those Islanders lucky enough to have waterfront property might have noticed a huge group of swimmers and boaters pass their docks and beaches from Aug. 8-19. The group was part of the distance swimming event the Tour de Mercer: Chasing the Yellow Thong. Kelly Sterling won the annual event for the second year, but more importantly the event raised $1,000 to benefit the Brett Storie Foundation.

"Kelly won but it is not officially a race," said David Landes, who organized the event and participated. "We did it last year for fun, but this year we found more of a reason to do it." The foundation was created in memory of Brett Storie, a Mercer Island High School swimmer and water polo player. The money goes towards a scholarship awarded each year at the high school. "It is more social than anything," said Sterling, whose son Collin won the Brett Storie Scholarship. "We were blessed with pretty good weather. Last year was informal; this year we wanted to do it for a cause." Sterling did not have as easy of a time this year winning the event. His friend, David Thompson of Bellevue, gave him a run and led for some of the race.

Neither Thompson or Sterling wanted to actually wear the leader's yellow thong.

"He was a challenge, but he had to miss two stages so I caught a break," said Sterling, who won three of the six stages. The route is about 12.5 miles long and the swimmers competed every other day in 1.5- to 2.9-mile segments or stages. The stages always began at 6 a.m. The race originated and finished at the Mercerwood Shore Club docks. More than 30 swimmers took part in the event, including Islanders Jim Smersh, Howard Jess, Aaron Levin, Kerry Sussex, Cory Mackie, Tim O'Brien, Tom Grandine, Tom Robertson, Reb Steiner, John Vranish, Sarah Vranish, Christina Hunsberger, Mike Schaeffer and Kyle Schaeffer. Ginny Pietela, Nancy Urner and Jennifer Ducato are members of Club Emerald. Many off-Island swimmers participated as well.

"We had a lot more people this year just through word-of-mouth," said Landes. "Last year we swam around the Island counter clockwise, so this year we did it clockwise." Another difference was that this year's race came three weeks earlier. The time change made for a smoother swim. "Last year it was rough and stormy," said Landes. "It is a fun event and accomplishment." The event was also changed from eight stages to six for time considerations. Most of the competitors are a part of the Shore Club's Masters Swimmers group and range in age from the mid 30s all the way up to into the 60s. Some of the swimmers made it a family affair with sons and daughters in their later teens accompanying their parent. John Vranish, who swam around the Island in 1972, had his daughter Sarah along with him for the long trek. Mike Schaeffer also had his son, Kyle, out on the lake for the swim.

The event had 12 support people who kayaked or boated with the group of swimmers to make sure that no one got hurt or too tired to finish. "They made sure that the same number of swimmers that entered the water, left the water at each stage," said Landes. Islanders Decky Fiedler, Paul Barach, Steve Sussex, Karen Oatey, Connie Schaeffer and Olga Walker were among the support staff. One of the biggest dangers is waterskis and boats. With the water temperature at 70 degrees, the swim is comfortable, despite the fact that most swimmers wore a wet suit.

"I think most used it for buoyancy," said Sterling.

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