52 take a swim in tepid Allegheny

Searching for monongy

July 12, 2010 4:00 AM
By David Templeton Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Despite a dead river rat and fish, some leaves and branches, and too-warm water, conditions were nearly ideal for U.S. Master Swimming's "Search for Monongy" event -- even if few knew what the event name meant.

About midday Sunday, 52 swimmers swam a 1.2-mile loop in the Allegheny River -- some doing it twice -- from the Heinz Field boat ramp against the current to a turn-around under the Clemente Bridge. During the first-ever 1.2 and 2.4-mile open water swim, one swimmer had to be fished from the river with cramps and another couldn't complete the loop.

But the rest praised the "flawless" and "well-organized" event as one great, wet adventure.

Jimmy Goldman, 73, of Squirrel Hill, and his son, Carl, 46, of Greenfield, rode bikes seven miles to the river before the elder Mr. Goldman swam 1.2 miles -- 1.3 miles counting a wayward detour -- and won his 70-to-75 age division. The younger Mr. Goldman finished the 2.4-mile competition at 54:14, second only to Robert Clark of Pittsburgh, who finished in 53:02.

Then the tireless Goldmans pedaled home.

"The important thing is getting fed," the elder Mr. Goldman said afterward, eating a doughnut then a sandwich. "There were leaves, one bottle and something dead, but the river was really clear and clean, and a hair on the warm side."

Actually it was a tepid 84 degrees Fahrenheit with a gentle 0.1 mph current.

Most swimmers have high-school and college swimming experience and now are members of swimming clubs, including the event sponsor, Allegheny Mountain Masters, the local chapter of U.S. Masters Swimming, an organization of amateur adult swimmers.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the 0.6-mile segment of the river to boat traffic, with River Rescue and volunteer kayakers available to help swimmers in distress.

Two people entered the "white-knuckles" division that allows fins and floating devices, but the other 52 swimmers were buoyed only by confidence.

"There are no lines on the bottom, and it's hard to swim straight," said Matt Meade, 45, of Mt. Lebanon, after completing the 1.2-mile race. "It was inspiring going under the big [Fort Duquesne] bridge and looking side to side to see the big city. It was pretty special."

Brian Day, 50, of Canonsburg, finished second overall in the 1.2-mile race with a time of 30:01, despite going 400 yards beyond the turn-around buoy under the Clemente Bridge. Janet McDonough, 51, of Cranberry, posted the winning 1.2-mile time of 29:08.

"Once you are in, you are committed," Mr. Day said. "You can't grab the wall and rest."

Overall winners and runners-up received Dick's Sporting Goods gift certificates, while age-group winners won blue and red ribbons.

Event organizer Katherine Longwell, of Sewickley, and chairwoman of Allegheny Mountain Masters, said the "Search for Monongy" -- local river lore about a man-eating catfish named Monongy -- was so successful the so-called search will be repeated next year.

And, for sure, cheers erupted when Dave Watterson, 52, of Brentwood, was the last to emerge from the river, uneaten by Monongy, after the 2.4-mile swim. An organizer even proclaimed with sounds of surprise, "We didn't lose anybody." Drying off, Mr. Watterson said he was more than anxious to repeat the river hunt for Monongy.

"They should hold another one in January," he said.