Swimmers make splash at Sebago Challenge


STANDISH — Westbrook Seals spend hours training in the Davan Pool at the Westbrook Community Center, but they got a different type of opportunity to showcase their skills earlier this week.

Members of the Seals swim program joined with other swimming enthusiasts under blue skies and temperatures in the 70s Aug. 5 to compete in the 7th Annual Sebago Challenge, an open water swim the organization puts on annually on Sebago Lake. The event gave 75 swimmers a chance to compete in several different distances: 1K, 2.5 K, 5K and this year, 10K.

Keli Gillespie, assistant coach of the Westbrook Seals, said the event raised $8,000 for the club, a portion of which will be given to the Saint Joseph’s College swim team.

“(This is) the only group in Maine that offers a USA Swimming certified water competition. There are a ton of other water events out there, such as Peak to Portland, but this is a sanctioned swim competition, so that means we can allow some of our younger swimmers to do it,” said Westbrook Seals Coach John Smith.

Smith said while many of his swimmers participated in the Sebago Challenge, making the transition from pool to open water is not an easy one.

“With the pool, you can see the bottom. The water is clear and it’s bright. Open water swimming is a whole different type of event versus pool swimming. To do this you can’t have a fear of whatever else is in the water,” he said.

An open water swim like the Sebago Challenge is a great way to build endurance and confidence, he said.

Bill Fletcher, of Falmouth, participated in the 1K race after being inspired to give open water swimming a shot by his nephews, Joel Pillsbury, 10, who placed fifth among males in the 1K race, and Jack Pillsbury, 15, who placed first overall in the 5K. Both boys live in Scarborough and are part of the Westbrook Seals program.

“They got me into swimming eight months ago,” said Fletcher, who finished in 21:17, 10th overall and third among males. 

He said he was glad to participate in an event that benefits a swim program that has meant so much to his nephews, who live in Scarborough.

“It’s great,” he said of the program. “The team itself seems to have a lot of camaraderie, with older swimmers helping younger swimmers or like today, older swimmers swimming alongside younger swimmers as buddies. My impression is, it is a really close-knit group.”

Ethan Schulz, 13, of Scarborough, and Sullivan Scharf, 9, of Standish, made up one of those buddy tandems.

“I swam with Sullivan. He needed a buddy and I wanted to step up for him,” Schulz said after the 1K race in which he and Scharf were the top two male finishers.

Scharf said it was his first open water race and he was glad to have a familiar face nearby.

This was the second Sebago Challenge for Mazy Karuzis, 14, of Fryeburg. 

“I’ve done open water swims before and they are pretty fun,” said Karuzis, who posted a top time of 14:56 in the 1K event.

While the race involved many local swimmers, Patrick Reynolds, a resident of New Market, New Hampshire, drove 90 minutes to take part.

“I’ve been to Sebago Lake before and it seemed like a great venue to do an open water swim. I’ve known people who have done it before and they said it was a good event,” Reynolds said just after the 1K race had begun.

Reynolds, who has done triathlons before but never just an open water swim, finished the 2.5K race in a time of 54:01, good for 13th overall.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Sebago Challenge race referee John Bliss has a word with swimmers before the 1K race Sunday, Aug. 5, at Saint Joesph’s College in Standish. Mazy Karuzis, 14, of Fryeburg was the race’s top finisher in a time of 14:56.

Swimmers in Sebago Challenge’s 5K race glide through the water. The event, held at Sebago Lake, also included a 1K race, 2.5K race and new this year a 10K race.

Grace Taylor, 13, of Cape Elizabeth heads to shore after placing first in Sebago Challenge’s 5K open water swim. Taylor placed first with a time of 1:16.26.

Portland Porpoises Coach Jessica Blake checks in with fellow coach after he competed in a 5K open water swim as part of the 7th Annual Sebago Challenge, an annual event hosted by the Westbrook Seals swim program.

Bernadette Shaw of Cape Elizabeth and her daughter, Lucy, 11, placed second and third in the women’s division of Sebago Challenge’s 1K race Aug. 5.

Swimmers compete Sunday, Aug. 5, in the 2.5K, 5K and 10K open water races at the Sebago Challenge, an annual event put on by Westbrook Seals that is the only USA Swimming sanctioned event of its type in Maine.