When John Potts of Pompano Beach, Florida, decided to swim nine miles around the Alligator Lighthouse, he bought a kayak. Not for him – for his wife Kathy, his mandatory escort in the Swim for Alligator Light open water race.
The race publicizes Florida’s aging and historic lighthouses and raises money for their restoration. Alligator Lighthouse was built in 1873. It sits four-and-a-half miles straight offshore of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. And before you ask, no, there are no alligators way out there.
John is a life-long swimmer, a former collegiate athlete for Florida Atlantic University. In fact, Kathy is too. Theirs was a match made in the water, one that continues today. She’s the ideal escort. “Kathy is probably the one person in this world who can differentiate between if I’m having trouble or I’m just complaining,” John says with a laugh.
They have four kids together. They surf and free dive and fish regularly. Kathy is a triathlete. John was staring at 40. “I had to do something to get back in shape and get serious,” he says.
When it came to choosing a kayak, they took the task seriously. It’s impossible to complete the race if the kayaker doesn’t finish. “The race directors make it very clear. Every year far more kayakers are rescued than swimmers,” he says. A big-box kayak would never do. “We had known from a relay years before that MirageDrive kayaks are the best,” he adds.
They bought a Hobie Mirage Revolution 16, a quick boat that excels in open water. John trained and trained; 4 to 5 workouts a week totaling 10 to 12 miles. A former 200-meter freestyle specialist, the regime was different than the intervals he used to swim. “More than anything else you have to train your mind. Settling in for a long continuous 2-and-a-half-hour workout is different,” he says.
They rigged the kayak for the race, adding a custom ‘rocket launcher’ rack that holds up to eight water bottles. This was crucial preparation. “It’s a simple math thing. I wanted half a water bottle every 30 minutes. You need at least 4 for just for the swimmer, you need water for the kayaker, and then there’s the what-if,” he explains.
At the beach before the September 17, 2016 race, they could tell who was prepared. “It’s part of the planning,” John says. The MirageDrive proved ideal. Kathy had her hands free to help her swimmer.
It was a perfect, calm, and clear morning for the swim. John blazed to a fourth-place finish with a time of 4 hours, 22 minutes. Kathy on her Revolution didn’t break a sweat. “Her quote was that was like biking 9 miles in 4 hours. It was pretty darn easy,” John says.
The Swim Around Key West is the next up. John says they’ll tackle the 12.5-mile race this June.