MIHS boys water polo team kicks off season under and over I-90

By Sara J. Hebert

Special to the Reporter

When a group of teenagers is energized for a challenge, you know it’s something special. If you drove, biked or walked across the Interstate 90 bridge early on Aug. 26, you may have caught a glimpse of such an event: Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Boys Water Polo Open Water Lake Swim and Bridge Run.

This year, 26 MIHS male athletes in grades 9-12 arrived by 7 a.m. to prepare for a 1.5-mile swim across Lake Washington along the buoy line north of the I-90 bridge followed by a 1.5-mile run back across I-90 to Mercer Island’s Lakeside Park.

A throng of parents and team supporters work through every detail for the challenge to go off without a hitch. Water safety crew comprised of boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards serve as watchmen and guides for these young athletes to swim 1.5 miles safely to their Seattle-side destination at South Day Street park.

The MIHS water polo team, led by coach Calvin White, comes into this annual tradition after a week of two practices per day, five-plus hours total each day. That’s what it takes for these athletes to train for one of the most demanding sports.

Team members have been conditioning and working hard, and still the open water swim and bridge run asks for even more grit and resolve.

Surprisingly, most athletes exit the swim portion of the challenge with smiles on their faces. Volunteer crew on the Seattle-side cheer on swimmers, welcoming them ashore with towels, blankets, hand warmers and hot chocolate.

Some boys skip the welcome wagon and transition quickly to the run segment. Alas, to reach the upper bridge, athletes must first ascend more than 100 stairs, with calf muscles sometimes screaming before they reach level ground to run eastbound across I-90 back to Mercer Island.

“With today’s strong current and a barge to navigate around, the boys faced extra obstacles and still came through strong,” says coach White, who captained his boat accompanied by a spotter and furry first mate Whiskey, his 2-year-old Burmese mountain dog.

The MIHS cheer squad gives runners a rousing congratulations at the finish. Energy is high for the whole team, with beaming faces, high fives and great camaraderie.

After a fourth-place state finish in 2021, the boys water polo team is ready for a strong start to the 2022 season. Special thanks to family and community supporters who sponsored athletes for the fundraiser portion of this event.