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More than 500 set their sights on La Jolla Cove Swim

Swimmers in the first heat hit the water in the 2019 La Jolla Cove Swim. This year's event is Sunday, Sept. 11.
(File)

A team of three La Jollans — two with ties to the La Jolla Town Council — has been training at The Cove almost daily in preparation for the upcoming La Jolla Cove Swim, working to overcome the “mental block” of swimming in open water and building physical endurance.

Eric Fletcher, former Town Council secretary Brooke Baginski and current Town Council Vice President Rick Dagon will take to The Cove as part of team BAEwatch, each donning festive pink swimwear. None has been in a competitive open-water swim before but embraced the opportunity for something new.

“We were so scared at first because there is a lot of sea life out there and there was a mental block,” Fletcher said. “But we have been swimming almost every day in La Jolla and now we’re really excited.”

The three are among more than 500 people who will take to the water in the La Jolla Cove Swim, which begins at 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, and will feature 1-mile and 3-mile heats. Proceeds will benefit the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego, which provides youth swim lessons; and La Jolla’s Concerts by the Sea, a series of outdoor performances to be held in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove next summer.

With the help of Adriana Issakov of La Jolla Swim and Sport, Fletcher, Baginski and Dagon occasionally practiced by swimming to the quarter-mile buoy off La Jolla Cove early in the morning.

“I like going first thing in the morning and seeing the huge community that meets out there,” Fletcher said. “It’s great exercise and a lot of practice on mental toughness [in that] it’s cold, there is sea life in the water, it can be scary. It’s also so amazing to be in all that nature.”

Baginski said she is not a swimmer but rather an athlete in search of a new challenge. “I still do the doggie paddle when out in the water sometimes,” she said with a laugh. “But I wanted to try something new and a little scary. I think I would be too scared to go by myself, and when I first went in to go for a long swim, I freaked out and got so tired. But having Eric and Rick there with me has been nice.”

She agrees that the mental challenge is “the biggest thing” to overcome when swimming in the open ocean. “Adriana gave me a couple of guided swims, and that made the training so much fun,” Baginski said.

“We were so scared at first because there is a lot of sea life out there and there was a mental block. But we have been swimming almost every day in La Jolla and now we’re really excited.”

— Eric Fletcher

During one practice, Fletcher broke away from the group and lost his momentum. “I felt the current and felt the cold,” he said. “But instead of focusing on the bad, I focused on all that I was grateful for. That changed my whole mindset. It was a cool mental thing. It’s like life — the swells come in, but if you just keep swimming, you make it and make progress and accomplish this great thing.”

Fletcher’s grandmother, a lifelong swimmer, died Sept. 11, 2020. “The fact that I get to swim on the anniversary of her death makes it that much more meaningful to me,” he said.

Unlike his teammates, Dagon doesn’t practice solely at The Cove but typically at Windansea.

“I’ve always wanted to do the La Jolla Cove Swim because I don’t swim there a lot,” he said. “I used to swim a lot through high school and college and swim at Windansea every day. But to say I swam the La Jolla Cove Swim in my lifetime is important to me. I feel blessed to be healthy enough to participate in it.”

He said he would recommend forming a team to anyone interested in attempting the swim. “It pushed me,” he said. “This was not something I would have considered before, but now it pushed me to go further.”

Eric Fletcher, former La Jolla Town Council secretary Brooke Baginski and current Town Council Vice President Rick Dagon
Eric Fletcher, former La Jolla Town Council secretary Brooke Baginski and current Town Council Vice President Rick Dagon will be in team BAEwatch in the La Jolla Cove Swim.
(Courtesy of Fletcher, Baginski and Dagon)

Judy Adams Halter, director of the La Jolla Cove Swim, said “we capped the number of swimmers doing the 3-mile at 150, and we already have 150 registered. We have 536 swimmers to date. We have over 400 from California, but we have almost every state represented and a swimmer from Great Britain.”

More than 20 swimmers will be doing both the 1-mile and 3-mile swims, and should the same person win both, a $500 cash prize awaits.

The La Jolla Rough Water Swim had been a local staple and one of the world’s most famous open-water swim races since 1916. But it was canceled three times in recent years — once due to construction of The Cove lifeguard tower and twice because of poor water quality. Adams Halter took it on herself to revive the concept of an open-water swim and give it a new name and purpose. The La Jolla Cove Swim was launched in 2019.

“It makes me very happy to bring back this community tradition,” Adams Halter said.

Online registration closes Monday, Sept. 5. The cost to register is $85 until then, and $100 the day of the event. Learn more at thelajollacoveswim.org. ◆