Sunday, July 3, 2011


Sunken Meadow Park on the north shore of Long Island is a long standing training site for triathletes. There is nice beach along Long Island Sound, albeit a bit rocky, and a boardwalk that is 3/4 of a mile long with markers every 1/4 mile. This makes it relatively easy to gauge distance while swimming. The water is typically calmer than the south shore (aka, the ocean) but it can get choppy at times.

Sunken Meadow is also home to once of the top cross country courses in the nation and has held many top running events. "Snake Hill" and "Cardiac Hill" will trigger memories, mostly unfavorable, for folks that have experienced the horror joy. For biking, it is on the hillier part the island so that many . It is not uncommon to see athletes swimming, biking, or running and it is a perfect venue for bricks.

The park officially opens at 7am. This means that they start collecting parking fees then but the gates are open well before then. Most triathletes that I know have no problem dropping a ton of money on "stuff" (see wetsuits, bikes, etc.) but make them pay $8 to park and you know they are getting there before 7. Lifeguards typically go on duty at 9AM and are on duty until 7pm for the summer hours.

Now to the safety question. Most triathletes are swimming in groups and because they are there before 7am, are typically done before the lifeguards show up. The state police have been reported to be making people come out of the water since they are officially not allowed to swim without lifeguards on duty.

This morning I swam at Sunken Meadow (in the water at 630am) and was not harassed to come out during my swim. There was at least 3 groups of triathletes totaling about 25 people swimming while I was there (you can tell since they are all wetsuited up - the water was reported to be 68 degrees). The water was like glass and conditions were perfect.

Now I realize that swimming with a life guard would be theoretically safer but still I feel that enforcement of this "no swimming without lifeguards" could be a bit over the top. Many of the folks I train with are, in fact, life guards themselves. Some coach the lifeguards and run the certification program. Of course I'm sure that there are morons, aren't there always, that would swim alone in harsh conditions, get injured (or worse), and blame the state for letting them swim when the police could have yelled at them.

I'm mixed on this. On one hand, as a triathlete with some level of skill, I need to train and wouldn't put myself in a dangerous condition. On the other hand, how can they tell if someone knows what they are doing beforehand. Additionally, something unexpected could happen. Could a solution be to get an exemption but that wouldn't handle the unexpected. Knowing NY State, there will be some ridiculous fee for that and it would be so onerous that no one would get one.

At what point do you say the risk is managed? I made that decision for myself today and hope to continue to be able to make that decision.

PS: Last year I was swimming there late afternoon on a rainy day with some friends. The lifeguards came over to us and said that they were required to make sure that no one was in the water as they were going off shift. He said that once we were out of the water (that instant) he was going to leave the beach and not look back. If we elected to go back in he wouldn't be aware of that as we were out when he left.


Caratunk Girl said...

Well...I am a bad one to ask about this. I always swim alone in a place where there are no lifeguards. I stay along shore and am smart about it - but if I didn't swim alone, I wouldn't get to swim at all.

SO, I think the park has to be cautious because if anyone gets hurt or anything and it is perceived that they allowed it, then they are open for lawsuit.

In my situation, it is all on me. But that wetsuit, you can't stay underwater in it.

Anyway, I feel that if you are in a group, you are in pretty safe and the park is covering its butt.

Unknown said...

When I was open water training, I was swimming outside the rope with no lifeguard and always at least one buddy. Having said this, I don't think that was very safe because we were each doing our own swim and really only checking on each other at certain checkpoints. The problem with groups is that nobody is really watching out to notice the moment someone has trouble.

You're all adults though, and know the risk and with large groups, folks will probably be okay. The park is mostly trying to be sure they don't get sued.

x said...

Things happen. Water makes this a different element in that things happen and then you cannot breathe anymore. I wouldn't advise running or swimming alone and honestly as a guard I can not see well down IN open water to guard... rarely things happen even if you are careful on the swim or the bike or the run having people around also training is a plus as far as a safety net.

Unknown said...

I swim in 4 different places: 2 pools, a lake, and a river. Not a single life guard is present at either of these locations.

However, I never swim alone in the open water.

We are adults, we can make our own decisions. If we were restricted by the actions of the morons of the world the gov't would probably have us all rolling around wrapped in bubble wrap for our own safety.

Annette@(running)In the Right Direction said...

Hello, New follower here! I live on the island as well but have never swam in Sunken Meadow yet. Maybe I will try that tomorrow as I have my first tri next weekend and I really need more open water work. I have run cardiac hill...and can't stand it each time! Look forward to reading more.

Sue Sitki said...

I've only been able to swim for about 4 years. Although I've occasionally gone open water swimming (in a wetsuit) with just my husband to watch out for me, it's a very rare occurrence in my little world. Also, if he's training himself, I don't put my trust in him... he's too focused on his own swim to notice if I go under for some reason.

Now that I can swim and have a buoyant wetsuit, I find I'm more apt to entertain the idea but so far, I've managed to resist the temptation. That's what 2 near-drownings as a child will do for you... I retained a healthy fear of drowning...

I admit I'm probably a lot more hesitant than seasoned swimmers but my feeling is that things happen when you least expect them. I'd rather know that someone out there will notice if I disappear... hence, I wear the most ridiculous and colourful swimcap I own each time I'm in the lake.

Stay safe out there everyone!