by Nicole Brodzik
Thirty six miles of stagnant, muddy water was all that sat between Excelsior’s Sandra Frimerman and a first-place victory at the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET).
“I was struggling the whole way,” she said. “I was second guessing myself. Those mental barriers are the hardest to break through, but eventually I got to a place where I could enjoy the nature around me and the beauty of that race.”
The END-WET race is the longest open water swimming race in North America and the 10th-longest race in the world. The racers’ journeys started in rural North Dakota and followed the Red River 36 miles through muddy water, trees, stumps and debris all the way to East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
The racers could choose to compete individually or in relay teams. To ensure competitors’ safety, a support kayak stays by their sides and holds water, food and replacement shakes, and assists with any first aid needs for
The 2016 event was Frimerman’s fourth END-WET outing and she finished with a time of 10:44:00, 29 minutes ahead of the next closest finisher.
“I was hoping to come in closer to 10 hours, but I was very happily surprised to win,” she said. “There are things I can improve on, but I just wanted to go and have a good experience. Winning was just icing on the cake.”
What makes her first-place finish in the co-ed race even more impressive was the route she took to win, and the competitors she was up against.
“It was also fun to meet all the other competitors,” Frimerman said. “People came from all over the country and a lot of them have swam rivers I hope to one day. Having the support from them and the whole community in this sport has been great.”
Frimerman said that, even though she did win this year’s END-WET competition, she’s fairly new to the sport.
“My first race was a five-mile open water race across Lake Minnetonka in 2006,” Frimerman said. “I used to avoid the open water, but I’m really glad I got into this. It’s really starting to catch on in America now. I love it.”
Before beginning open-water swimming, Frimerman was a more traditional swimmer, competing on teams since she was eight years old.
“At that age, my parents decided I needed to learn how to swim,” Frimerman said. “I used to be really bad at it, actually.”
Since then, the 32-year-old said she’s put in extensive work, which has brought her to this level. From practices after school in her childhood to finding a few hours before or after work for a swim, Frimerman’s training schedule has grown more intense as she’s progressed to marathon races and the END-WET’s 36-mile race.
“It’s a very dedicated hobby,” she said. “It’s how I stay in shape, just like people who go to the gym. Some days, I’ll swim eight or 10 miles.”
Next up for Frimerman is an event called Swim the Suck, a 10-mile race in the Tennessee River Gorge that takes place in October. Her long-term sights are set, perhaps, on a back-to-back title at END-WET next June.
“As long as it fits into my schedule, I want to be there,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite races.”