For a second year in a row, Christopher Arena of Amityville finished first in The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim.
“It’s fun to get out there,” said Arena, a recent St. Anthony’s High School graduate who will be swimming for John’s Hopkins University in the fall.
“It’s a challenge and it’s totally different than the pool.”
In preparations for the race, Arena swam 10,000 to 12,000 kilometers a day, he said.
The long distance swim begins on Fire Island and ends at Gilbert Park in Brightwaters Village.
At 8 a.m. on Friday, Arena and his fellow swimmers hopped in the choppy water near the lighthouse during a stormy morning.
story continues below
“The race was a lot tougher this year,” said Arena, who only recently turned 18. “The current and the waves were pretty tough out there.”
Arena completed the race in two hours, one minute, and 34 seconds — about 90 seconds faster than the second-place male finisher, Justin Meyn, 16, of Brightwaters.
The top-performing female swimmer was Meghan Slattery, 19, of Bayport, who swam the length of the bay in two hours, 25 minutes and 32 seconds, good for 10 and a half minutes better than the second-place female finisher.
One of the first to congratulate Arena was the race’s 1956 winner, Gary Smith, who was a special honoree at this year’s race.
“Every year we try to recognize someone who is involved with the swim and has done great for the community,” said Rob Roos, the race’s historian.
And Smith was happy to be a part of Arena’s big day.
“When I swam we had the same inclement weather,” recalled Smith. “[Arena] is a good swimmer and has a good build.”
story continues below
After the race, Arena was awarded first place, while Smith was presented with a special plaque to commemorate his victory 61 years ago.
Smith and Arena also shared the same age when they won the race at 17.
“My children grew up with Maggie, she lived around the corner, so it’s a spectacular honor to be recognized,” said Smith.
Maggie Fischer was 17 and a senior at St. Anthony’s High school. She had been training for the cross-bay event when she died in a car accident just a few days before the race was scheduled to go off in 1999.
The swim continued, with participants completing the challenge in memory of Maggie. It was later renamed The Maggie Fischer Memorial Great South Bay Cross Bay Swim.
According to Smith, the race has changed greatly over the years. The first swims across the bay taking place in 1927, according to Roos, who cites newspaper articles from that time.
Back when Smith won in 1956 the distance was 6.9 miles compared to this year’s over 100 swimmers and the 5.25-mile trek.
And there were only 10 swimmers.
But that didn’t make Smith’s win any less sweet.
“It was like I was a little kid getting his first ice cream cone,” he said.
Top: Christopher Arena in the midst of his second cross-bay swim win.
Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo