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Springfield Sisters Make Splash in Open Water Long-Distance Swimming

Courtesy of the Rivard Family
Courtesy of the Rivard Family
Vera Rivard, 17, is one of the youngest women to complete the Triple Crown of open water swimming.

When Vera Rivard is swimming late at night in the open ocean, her mind tends to wander.

“I think about a lot of things, but mostly I sing songs in my head, or play little games in my head, or like do math questions or things like that,” she says.

Vera, 17, and her sister Margaret Rivard, 14, are long-distance open water swimmers, a sport that requires deep reservoirs of both physical and mental resolve.

Last week, Vera, a rising senior at Kearsarge High School, became one of the youngest women ever to complete the ‘Triple Crown’ of open water swimming.

Vera has now completed a 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan Island, a 21.5-mile swim across the English Channel, and a 20-mile swim from Catalina Island to mainland California.

They don’t get their love of the sport from their mom.

Courtesy of the Rivard Family
Vera and Margaret Rivard train together in the Upper Valley, and at lakes and ponds throughout the region.

“I am not much of a swimmer,” admits Darcie DeBlois-Rivard.

But from their start in open water long-distance swimming, DeBlois-Rivard has been a buoy for her daughters, often kayaking beside them as they train or compete.

“It kind of happened by accident,” DeBlois-Rivard says. “They just started with a short race, and they kept getting longer.”

Those swims are now very long. For training, the sisters complete endless laps at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, and also swim across ponds and lakes.

“I do it because I love it,” Vera says. “This is where I feel happy.”

That doesn’t mean it's easy. The Manhattan swim took her just under eight hours. The English and Catalonia Channels were both 14-hour marathons, with the latter posing an additional challenge. Because of strong waves and currents in the afternoon, swimmers typically begin late at night, in the dark.

“You start at 11 o’clock at night, and you swim through the night,” Vera says.

During her Triple Crown swims, Vera’s family was on a support boat that trails behind her. A kayaker is in the water rowing parallel. Every 40 minutes, someone throws her an energy drink or a ‘goo’ packet.

Courtesy of the Rivard Family
A kayak will paddle alongside a long-distance swimmer, while a support boat trails just behind.

During the Catalina swim, the support boat’s motor became entangled in a rogue crab pot line. Vera had to tread water, wasting valuable energy, for about 30 minutes while her team worked to clear the propeller.

A few jellyfish stings also peppered the journey.

But there were highlights, too.

“Dolphins, that was really cool,” Vera says. “I was a couple miles from the end, and it was kind of like they were pushing me in, like you can do it, and it was really awesome.”

Vera reached the shore a little after 1 p.m. local time last Wednesday, a successful ending to her Triple Crown.

Now, the attention turns to her friend and training partner: her younger sister Margaret who will be swimming the Catalina Channel tonight.

“I am very excited to do it, and a little nervous,” Margaret says.

This is the 14-year old’s first leg of the triple crown. She’s been on the support boat for all three of Vera’s swims.

“This one was definitely the most emotional for the whole family because, her being able to finish was, I was so proud of her. I was just glad to see her finish and see the happy face she had,” Margaret says.

Tonight, when Margaret hits the water around 11 pm local time, it will be Vera’s turn to cheer her on.

“She’s my best friend and my training buddy, and it’s really awesome when I get to see her swim, and I know she has my back and I got hers,” Margaret says.

You can track Margaret's progress in real-time at this website: https://track.rs/MargaretRivardCatalina2021

Update: Margaret completed the Catalina Channel in an unofficial time of 14 hrs, 8 mins. According to Darcie, she "battled some current and cold seas." Margaret appears to be the youngest woman ever to cross the Catalina, Darcie says, breaking a record that has stood since 1971.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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