Race across the Chesapeake Bay goes swimmingly


KENT ISLAND -- Two young swimmers, both Floridians living in the Washington area, led a field of 555 entrants to win top honors yesterday in the 1995 Great Chesapeake Bay Swim.

Bambi Bowman, 21, swam the 4.4 miles across the bay in 1 hour, 34 minutes, 12 seconds to claim the women's title. The Sarasota, Fla., native, who swims for George Washington University in Washington, didn't even look out of breath as she walked onto the beach near Hemingway's Restaurant. She was the fifth swimmer to finish the course.

Equally nonchalant was the top men's contestant, Chris Derks, 25, a native of Miami who recently finished a master's program in forensic science at George Washington University. Mr. Derks, who had returned to swimming after a 4 1/2 -year hiatus, finished the open-water swim in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 6 seconds.

"It's a nice precursor for the 25K U.S. Nationals in Atlanta, the qualifier for the Pan Am games," said Mr. Derks as he accepted the congratulations of other swimmers.

The two winners are coached by George Washington's John Flanagan, who was on the support staff for the event. Mr. Flanagan accurately predicted the winners as he paddled a kayak out to the race start.

"He's always really confident, and I think it rubs off on us," said a smiling Miss Bowman after the race.

Smiles, some more gasping than others, were a staple at the event, as swimmer after swimmer stepped onto the beach. The swim, a March of Dimes fund-raiser that garnered more than $20,000, drew contestants whose ages ranged from midteens to mid-60s, and all but 30 finished the course.

Those who did not had plenty of help: the Chesapeake Paddlers Club had 45 kayakers in the water to keep the swimmers on course as they swam diagonally off the beach at Sandy Point State Park, then between the two spans of the Bay Bridge before veering off again to finish on Kent Island.

Beyond the kayakers was a line of boats operated by the Chesapeake Bay Power Boat Association, with the Coast Guard, area paramedics and firefighters, and the members of the Boston Whalers Club, who were in the water to make sure no swimmers got hurt.

Support also came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We're trying to use the best technology in NOAA," explained M. Elizabeth Gillelan, chief of the agency's Chesapeake Bay office. She and several staff members were on hand for the event, getting up-to-the-minute weather and tide information as the race began at 1 p.m.

As the swimmers approached the beach, relatives and friends cheered them on for the last 100 yards.

One of the most jubilant swimmers was the last one out of the water.

Ed Jones of Baltimore looked tired as he made his way up the ramp toward his family.

"Way to go, Dad!" said his daughter and fellow contestant, Kaitlyn Jones. "You made it!"

Mr. Jones, 61, and his daughter, 28, had trained together for the race. She finished in 1 hour, 45 minutes; he finished in 3 hours, 25 minutes.

"He made it!" said Ms. Jones. "Good going, Dad. You did it!"

Her father was too breathless to answer right away, but his smile told the story: He was as pleased as she was.

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