In 2004, the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park came up with another fundraiser for its marine conservation and youth programs.
Twenty years later, the annual Beach To Beach Power Swim is still going strong — even surviving through hurricanes and pandemics — and still drawing participants from across the territory and the mainland United States.
The 20th anniversary Power Swim will be held this weekend on St. John, with the start at Maho Beach on Sunday morning. The three divisions will finish at Cinnamon Beach (short course), Trunk Bay Beach (intermediate course) and Hawksnest Beach (long course and relay).
This year’s Power Swim has more than 350 registered entrants, with dozens more on a waiting list, according to Tonia Lovejoy, the executive director of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. The entries for the 2023 race come from 29 states — as far away as California — and territories.
Among this year’s entrants are four swimmers — Craig Barshinger, Karen Cannell, Alfredo Del Olmo and Jeff Miller — who have swum in every Power Swim, from the first in 2004 to now.
“The people who have done the Power Swim all 20 years — and there’s many more who have done most of them — they’re part of the community,” Lovejoy said. “And hundreds of business owners and residents who have come together to make this event, and keep it going.”
Miller, who recently retired as the Virgin Islands National Park’s chief biologist, was at the initial meeting when the Power Swim was created.
“We sat around the Friends conference room table — Louise Wearmouth, Peter Alter, Jude Woodcock, Joe Kessler and me,” he said in a prepared release. “This event combines the wonderful people of this island, with the visitors who come for the event, and celebrates the beauty both on the land and in the sea.”
Barshinger, a former U.S. Virgin Islands senator, was among the first entrants for that inaugural Power Swim. “When Friends of the Park announced the first Beach To Beach Power Swim, my immediate reaction was, ‘I’m in!’, and I’ve now enjoyed it for 20 years,” he said in a prepared release. “My dark blond hair has slowly turned to white, but my enthusiasm for the Swim hasn’t aged a bit!”
The Power Swim has had its bumps in the road over the years — holding an abbreviated race in 2018 as the territory recovered from hurricanes Irma and Maria, and a “virtual” swim in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But this year’s 20th anniversary Power Swim reached its entry limit earlier than usual, according to Lovejoy.
“We always aim for 350, and we always wind up a little over that, and we always have a number of people drop out,” Lovejoy said. “But what was remarkable this year was how quickly the race filled up — we were almost at capacity in the first month (in mid-March), and we closed registration a month early and started a waiting list.
“It’s just a really popular event, and the people and businesses who support it just make it come to life. … It’s a big production, and it’s awesome.”
Cannell, who travels from her home in Rockport, Mass., to take part in the Power Swim the past 20 years, has been surprised by the staying power of the fundraiser.
“Who knew how much the Power Swim would grow, how much St. John would change, how many friends I would make over the years?” Cannell said in a prepared release. “Jeff, Craig, Alfredo and many more persons I see only at the swim each year, others I see around town when I’m here.
“Participating in the Swim is one tiny way of giving back to help protect this environment and support the park that gives me so much peace.”