Open water swimmer glides forward

Open water swimmer glides forward
Photo by Mike Addison

By Susanna P. Barton


When Riverside resident Jim Alabiso reflects on the recent “Up the River” 12-mile swim for the St. Johns, he says he’s so pleased has to pick his jaw up off the floor.

“We had 42 volunteers and 100 supporters and sponsors, it’s just incredible,” Alabiso said last month in the wake of his much hyped 12-mile river swim from the Mandarin county dock to the Riverside Arts Market. “I’m so pleased with the community response.”

Alabiso’s organization, Jumping Fish, has been spearheading river swims to fulfill its mission of “advocacy for our waterways through athletics.” The gatherings usually include a small group of swimmers accompanied by kayakers and boaters.  The June 9 swim from Mandarin to Riverside was one of its biggest undertakings yet. Not only did local bank, Community First, fund the endeavor with a $1,000 grant, but also Riverside Avondale Preservation led a happy homecoming for the swimmers and kayakers at the Riverside Arts Market and helped generate community interest in the undertaking. The St. Johns Riverkeeper boat, Kingfisher, also came along for the fun and provided updates to supporters following the swim.

The swim was the first long distance swimming event in the St. Johns River. Alabiso — along with other swimmers, kayakers, paddle-boarders and boating enthusiasts — hope the event will open doors for additional water events in the St. Johns. Ultimately, the goal is to bring so much athletic interest to the St. Johns River that it becomes an important revenue source for Downtown hotels, restaurants and entertainment areas. And as a money generator, the events and river would have a better chance at being protected when companies want to pipe flow in — and out — of the St. Johns River.

“What we’re doing is a several year strategy — we want to get people used to swimming in the river before we push too hard,” Alabiso said.

Alabiso likened the river’s future to the Hudson River. Long considered dirty, the Hudson now is the site of “The Eight Bridges Swim” and other events that attract athletes from all over the world.

He sees similar interest in the upcoming “Race Across the St. Johns” planned for Oct. 20. Details are in the works, he said, but it has generated interest from swimmers all over the country.

In the meantime, JumpingFish has added a new course to its roster — the “Downtown Rebel Mile.” The course goes from the Fuller Warren Bridge to the Main Street Bridge at The Landing. The swimmers’ other two venues include: the Swim Across the St. Johns, a four-mile swim from the Fleming Island Marina in Orange Park to the County Dock in Mandarin; and the St. Johns Marathon Swim, an 11-mile course from the County Dock in Mandarin to the Fuller Warren (also known as the 12-mile Swim for the St. Johns)


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