The Catalina Channel, the English Channel and the Island of Manhattan are all iconic water features with treacherous conditions and deep histories. They are also notches in the belt of local swimmer Abby Bergman who completed swimming’s “Triple Crown” this year by completing the almost 30-mile course through the New York rivers.
Bergman swam the English Channel last year and began her triptych with a swim from Catalina Island in 2016.
The spark for her Catalina crossing was simply a lifelong familiarity with the waterway.
“It was interesting to me because I had grown up being able to see this island,” she said.
She completed the 21-mile swim in 2016 in about 11 hours and 11 minutes. She then set herself the goal of completing the iconic 20-mile English Channel, which she swam in 2017.
Bergman said she was aware of the connection between her two ocean swims and the New York rivers but Bergman said her swimming goals have always been about the individual challenge and while she knew of the Triple Crown, it wasn’t the primary motivation for her recent accomplishments.
“I make an effort to do swims that are interesting to me, not because it’s part of a set that someone put together,” she said.
Circumnavigating the Island of Manhattan came with unique challenges. The waters are fresh or brackish and the lack of salt compared to the open ocean has several impacts.
“It’s not as salty so there’s not as much buoyancy,” she said.
Bergman said that in ocean swimming, you consume enough salt from the surrounding water to offset the electrolytes used in the exercise. However, in the rivers, she added sports drinks to her fueling routine to account for the lack of salt in the environment.
Because the rivers are not true rivers but tidal estuaries, they have a tidal flow that reverses direction over the course of a day. The New York race is timed to take advantage of the currents and Bergman was able to finish the 28.5 mile course in seven hours and 42 minutes.
“This New York was one of the most fun swims I’ve ever done,” she said. “That was so much fun. I could see myself wanting to come back in a few years and swim this again. Meanwhile, I get to think about what swim I want to tackle next.”
She said she has no immediate plans for another endurance challenge before she moves to Chicago for a master’s degree program in motivation and decision making. She said the course has studied how marathon runners are motivated and she’d like to apply the academic data to the world of distance-swimming.
“I’m still exploring where I want to end up,” she said. “I might continue schooling for a PhD and research then take what I learn and find a practical application with industry-focused careers.”
Bergman formerly swam with Team Santa Monica and said she first got the itch for long-distance swimming after reading about it in Lynne Cox’s book, “Swimming to Antarctica.” Her first distance swim was six miles in Santa Barbara and while she’s never been about speed, the community that forms around distance swimming has been a constant inspiration to her.
“I think another thing to note is the people are really important, not only to get you to hear about these swims, but to get you to want to do them,” she said.
For more information about Bergman, visit her website at www.abbybergman.com or follow her on Instagram @abbygirlrose