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Bridge Swim again starts at Sellwood Bridge

by: ERIC NORBERG - From the elevated vantage point of the Sellwood Bridge, this is the view downriver towards  Portland that swimmers in the Portland Bridge Swim encounter as they begin the race this year at 7:30 am on July 21st.The third annual “Portland Bridge Swim” will start, at 7:30 am on Saturday, July 21, once again at the Sellwood Bridge. Participating swimmers will swim under ten bridges, a distance of eleven miles, to the St. John’s Bridge in the Northwest Industrial District.

The first swimmers are expected at Cathedral Park, just past the St. John’s Bridge, at around 11 am; the race is officially over at 3:30 pm.

The organizer of the event, Marisa Frieder, revealed at a talk in April at the Milwaukie Rotary Club that it is one of the very few such competitive urban bridge-to-bridge swim events in the world, and that she has hopes that within a few years it will be a well-known world-class swimming event.

For many swimmers, the first section – between the Sellwood Bridge and the Ross Island Bridge – is the most fun, since it occurs in a nature setting. After the Ross Island Bridge, the swimmers enter a “dynamic city environment”, with the bridges close-spaced, which is also fun. The hard part begins after passing under the Fremont Bridge, when the finish line at the St. John’s Bridge becomes visible in the distance.

“The problem is, it never seems to get any closer!” she exclaimed, speaking as a participant in her own event. “It really messes with your mind!” And the scenery of the Northwest Industrial District offers no real sense of progress towards the finish line, either.

The race begins upstream from the finish, of course, but the advantage of swimming with the current is small – Frieder discloses that the river flows through Portland at only one third of one mile an hour. Still, that’s better than trying to swim the race upstream.

About the condition and temperature of the river, a man identified as a past participant who accompanied her to the talk commented, “The Willamette River is surprisingly clean – it’s a healthy river.” And although the water is quite cold for a long swim, “The body can be conditioned to swim in cold water.”

There were only fifteen entrants in the first race in 2011, rising to 36 last year. More are expected this year, but only a maximum of 80 solo swimmers or three-person relay teams will be accepted, in order to minimize the impediments to normal river traffic. The event requires a Coast Guard permit, and there are strict rules swimmers must follow. Race organizers work with Portland Fire and Rescue to maintain safety for all. The “Portland Bridge Swim” is hosted by the Tualatin Hills Barracudas Masters Swim Team, and proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization Willamette Riverkeeper. Sponsors are welcomed for the swim; “We need cash and goods – you’ll be credited on our website, caps, T-shirts, and promotional material.”

The Internet website is: www.portlandbridgeswim.com – and Ms. Frieder can be reached for questions or information at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.