David Quick // The Post and Courier
Tender-footed Sallie Limehouse, 10, of Summerville, hitches a ride on her mom's back on her way to the start of the Lowcountry Splash open water swim on Saturday
The 10th annual Lowcountry Splash was the roughest ever, but that still didn't stop a record 488 people -- ages 10 to 76 -- from finishing the 2.4-mile open-water swim from Hobcaw Yacht Club, under the Cooper River bridge, to Patriot's Point in Mount Pleasant.
A ripping current taking the swimmers down the river was countered by a 15-knot head wind, which created a chop that pounded faces and left many abandoning the faster freestyle stroke for the breast stroke or backstroke.
Daniel Medvid, 46, who has participated with his Charlotte Sharks water polo team, described the swim as being in a boxing match and the toughest of the seven Splash events he's done.
"You were going up against Muhammad Ali the whole way today," Medvid said. "It pounded the heck out of you ... Sometimes it was easier to swim breast stroke, so you see the wave coming. I either got a face full of water, mouthful of water or my stroke got cut short. It beat me up bad."
In most years, the chop comes as swimmers pass the bridge in the final mile. This year, it was choppy the whole way and many thought the final mile was even a bit easier than the Wando River segment.
Mark Rutledge, founder and director of the Lowcountry Splash, warned swimmers before they took to the water about the conditions: "Don't get discouraged. Keep going forward. It'll be all right. It will be a challenge."
Afterwards he expressed relief that only about seven swimmers had to be pulled out of the water.
He said, "It was as tough as I've seen it."
Saturday's swim broke registration and finisher records set in 2009 when 472 swimmers signed up and 442 finished.
On Friday, organizers ran out of timing chips at 525 and then about 15 signed up despite not getting timing chips.
The event benefits the Logan Rutledge Foundation, which supports water safety programs such as the Johns Island-based WaterProof.
The program teaches less-privileged children on Johns and Wadmalaw island how to keep from drowning.