Kuku Fleming, Liz Fry & Matthew Rossi

Liz Fry at Westport Weston YMCA

This article is a great reminder that we can persevere during hard times. 

New Year’s Day Celebration: Liz Fry led the way to 11 km of swimming

We all know and love our humble hometown aquatic celebrity Liz Fry, who has 2 Guinness World Records for open water swimming.  We also know that she has been conquering even more demanding open water swims as she ages.  But did you know that she has been helping to inspire so many swimmers of all ages and abilities to take on even more tougher swims as they get older?

In 1985, Liz and a few other “6 am morning regular” started the “New Year Swim”.  On January 1 of that year, at the old downtown Y, this group swam 86 times 100 yards on 1:30 minutes interval (86 is from the year ’85 plus 1 year for good luck).  That’s right; they spent 2 hours and 9 minutes swimming 8,600 yards (equivalent to 4.9 miles or 7.9 km).  Not bad for 37 year-old Liz.

Fast forward thirty-five year later to 2020; this year’s New Year’s Day Swim would be 121 x 100s, still on the 1 minute 30 second interval. Many swimmers now plan on the New Year’s Day swim to start their New Year’s resolution wellness goals as well as kick off the January Jam, which is a fitness event in which participating swimmers “jam” as much yardage as they can in the month of January and raise money for the Dave Parcells Multiple Sclerosis Fund, through St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. Liz encourages swimmers of all speeds and abilities to join in and challenge themselves. The Westport YMCA and its staff has supported the event by welcoming swimmers from other YMCAs and helping the swim start on time, exactly at 8:00 am.
Over 24 swimmers joined Liz for the New Year’s Day swim! Most started at the beginning, while others joined in when their schedule allowed to keep her and others company. This year’s distance totaling 12,100 yards, equivalent to 6.88 miles or a little over 11 km, took 3 hours, 1 minute and 30 seconds. It was wonderful to see all the swimmers reach or exceed their goals. Besides Liz, two other swimmers completed all the 12,100 yards. These swimmers were 2019 finisher Matt Rossi and first-timer Kuku Fleming.

Here are reflections from some of the swimmers who did the New Year’s Day Swim.

Tom Linell
To me the “New Years Day Swim” is about sustaining mental and physical stamina and sharing camaraderie with my fellow swimmers.

Kuku Fleming
Initial goal was 4,000 yards.  Got to 4,000 and decided to challenge my compromised lungs, so set a new goal of 6,000.  Loneliness got to my around 5,000 and I was tempted to quit but didn’t.  Reached 6,000 and finally started to feel good so set a new goal of 8,000.  Around 7,000 I got into “the zone”, in which I actually became more efficient with my stroke count and found my “forever stroke”.  Set another new goal of 10,000, a nice clean number.  Almost quit from dehydration (oops, I had misplaced the water bottle in the next lane). Somehow made it to 10,000, which was just so close to 12,100 that I thought I should just finish the whole thing to keep Liz company. Before the swim, I had thought boredom and loneliness were going to be my biggest problems. Soon found that I could not afford to be bored because I had to give every single stroke and every flipturn 100% of my attention.  A sloppy turn or hand placement would have slowed me down and resulted in less rest.  Needed the focus to keep it together and not fall apart. The whole swim was a total head game for me, and I’m so proud (and surprised!) to have conquered it.  I had also fully expected to crash on the couch for a few hours but was actually euphoric and hyperenergetic for the rest of the day and did not feel hungry until 4-5 hours after the swim. (That euphoria actually made me feel insecure. I had to ask myself “Is swimming a real sport?  Shouldn’t I be starving and broken by now?  Why am I still walking around, doing dishes and laundry?!”)
Looking forward to 122 x 100 yards in January 2021!

Matthew Rossi
Swimming is a great sport and can have amazing benefits to your health and wellness even from a recreational standpoint.
Swimming on New Year’s day at Westport Y family pool is on a different level when taking 3 hours to swim with Liz Fry. Think of being on earth as normal swimming and then think of the planet Pluto and swimming on that planet as an analogy to swimming on New Year’s day with Liz.
I have known Liz for 30 years and have the pleasure to swim with her in many different events and practices..she started the lengthy New Year’s day 100’s years ago when 90 was the number of 100’s on 1:30.00 minutes.  This past year, 121 x 100’s was the goal, and 3 people made the whole amount: Liz (of course), Kuku and myself.
The 3 hours it took is best described as 1 hour of fun, 1 hour of pain and 1 hour of swimming on the planet Pluto. Yes…Pluto because you actually don’t feel your body near the last 3k yards. The lack of hydration wrecks your body, and no amount of drinking water early enough and during the first 2 hours can prepare for the pain from lack of hydration in the last hour. Many ask “Why do that many 100’s on New Year’s day? “ The answer is as easy as “Why climb a mountain?”  Because it’s there to do! The euphoria of the first hour subsides but does not stop the desire of accomplishment. The agony of a second straight hour does not subside but the feeling of knowing pain is forthcoming does not stop the desire of accomplishment.   The undeniable fear, pain & out of body experience of the last hour of over 12,000 yards cannot stop the desire of accomplishment either. Liz as a Guinness Book record holder is an inspiration to many, definitely myself and I hope many more swimmers both competitive and recreational join us on January 1, 2021 for 121 + 1 (for good luck) 100’s to experience joy, fun, agony and a little more than a little pain but also for that euphoric, out of body “swimming on planet Pluto” feeling.

May we all find inspiration from these swimmers!