When Taylor Cooper first visualized bringing an open water swim to North Carolina, he was confident but inexperienced. "I was venturing into waters I didn't know a lot about. But I knew we could get here," said race director Taylor, head coach of the Sandhills Sandsharks Swim Team of North Carolina.
By all definitions, Taylor and open water swimming have arrived in the open water swim. When the North Carolina Open Water Championships first started in 1998 when the race was called the Sandsharks Open Water Swim, the race had 47 swimmers. This year, the event attracted more than 600 swimmers doing races between 400 meters and 10K, cheered on by over 1,500 spectators in Seven Lakes.
The winner of the featured 5K race was Joe Kinderwater (shown on left), a University of North Carolina student who is one of the race favorites at next week's USA Swimming world championship trials. Theresa Meyer was the top female finisher.
Taylor said open water swimming is gaining popularity because of its uniqueness. "It is so different from a regular swim meet. It is more like watching a giant steeplechase in the water. My goal is to get us to 800 (competitors) next year."
Like open water swims throughout the US, the race attracts age group swimmers, masters swimmers and triathletes supported by a huge crowd.
Former champions have included Chip Peterson, the 2005 world 10K champion, and Olympic bronze medalist and former American 1500-meter free record holder, Chris Thompson.
But, Chip will not compete in the American world championship trials this week due to an illness - leaving the door wide open for Joe, his training partner.