At the age of 51, South Carolina's most accomplished marathon swimmer has added her longest swim, distance-wise, to her impressive resume.
1997: Swim around Key West, Fla., 12.5 miles.
1999: Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, New York, 28.5 miles.
2001: English Channel, England/France, 21 miles.
2003: Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Florida, 24 miles.
2004: Catalina Island to Long Beach, Calif., 22 miles.
2005: Lake Zurich Marathon Swim, Switzerland, 17 miles.
2006: St. Vincent's Swim Across the Sound, New York, 15 miles.
2007: Santa Barbara (Calif.) Channel Swim, 20 miles.
2008: Strait of Gibraltar, Spain to Morocco, 11.2 miles.
2010: Charleston peninsula, I-526 bridge to bridge, 16.25 miles.
2011: Lake Memphremagog, Vermont, 10 miles.
2012: Molokai Channel, Hawaii, 26 miles.
2013: Cook Strait, New Zealand, 17 miles (she did not finish).
2014: Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (Red River, North Dakota/Minnesota), 36 miles.
On Saturday, Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson finished the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test, a 36-mile swim in the Red River from Belmont Park in North Dakota to East Grand Forks, Minn., in nine hours and nine minutes.
She was the first female finisher and the third overall finisher for those not wearing wetsuits. Water temperatures were in the range of 68-70 degrees.
While the swim took place with the flow of the river, the challenge of the swim had to do with conditions specific to the chilly, rainy weather of the upper Midwest this spring. Due to heavy rains, the river was cresting four feet above flood stage of 28 feet.
"The water was up in the trees," recalls Wilson. "It looked like, in parts, we were swimming in the Amazon."
Last week, law enforcement officials considered canceling the race because of conditions, particularly because of the risks posed by debris in the river. After it wasn't canceled, swimmers were required to wear a brightly colored float, strapped on a leash to their waists. The float did not provide any buoyancy benefits.
Wilson says her friend Lesley Fanning, who has accompanied her via boat or kayak on many of her marathon swims, played an even more critical role in her swim. Fanning not only kept Wilson on a regular schedule of eating and drinking fluids, but plotted a course through the river currents and kept her eyes out for debris in turbid water.
Even so, Wilson says she took "some hits" from debris in her head, hands and arms.
The swim was her 14th marathon swim since 1997 when she did the 12.5-mile Swim Around Key West. Other swims have included the 21-mile English Channel in 2001, the 11.2-mile Strait of Gibraltar, from Spain to Morocco, in 2008, and Hawaii's 26-mile Molokai Channel in 2012. Prior to Saturday's race, Wilson's longest distance swim was the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 1999.
She completed all of her swims but one, the 17-mile Cook Strait in New Zealand in March 2013, when she was stopped because of symptoms of hypothermia.
In analyzing what went wrong at Cook, Wilson says she took precautions this year to fatten up, thereby gaining insulation, for this year's swim because she was worried the Red River would be as chilly as Cook and the English Channel. She put an extra eight pounds, from 129 to 137, on her 5-4 frame.
Wilson says she chose a marathon swim in the United States this year to save money, but that she continues to eye other international challenges.
Wilson also organizes a local marathon swim, the 12-mile Swim Around Charleston, from Remley's Point in the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant to I-526 in the Ashley River. This year's event will be Sept. 21.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.