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Long Bridge Swim is more than a swim

by TREVAN PIXLEY
Sports Editor | August 3, 2022 1:00 AM

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The 27th annual Long Bridge Swim is set to take place on Saturday, Aug 6, at 9 a.m.

The annual spectacle began back in 1995 by local swimming enthusiast Eric Ridgeway, who wanted to establish a positive community event.

68 people came out to celebrate the first ever event and by 2000, over 300 people had begun to swim in the event.

Ridgeway's vision was to give swimmers an opportunity to safely swim across the lake and have fun doing so rather than race.

The first swim made a conscious effort to support swimmers who might be challenged in some way, whether that be amputees, deaf, and blind swimmers, people with MS, polio, Down Syndrome, and so on.

Swimmers as young as five and as old as 90 have enjoyed the swim, giving all ages an opportunity to experience the event.

The Long Bridge Swim has always tried to keep its registration fees as low as possible and will scholarship any individual or family if they request help.

For this year's event, registration will be open online at www.longbridgeswim.org until Thursday. Aug. 4, and on-site registration will be available on Friday evening at Sandpoint High School from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

In 2018, the event suffered its first bump in the road, having to cancel due to weather conditions. However, people from all around the country still came out to enjoy the bucket list swim the year after in 2019.

In 2020, the swim suffered another blow, having to cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"After we returned following the pandemic, we were back up to around 750 swimmers," Long Bridge swim director Jim Zuberbuhler said. "The biggest reason for the increase in numbers being that the Canadians are back to enjoying the race."

Racers from all over the country come and enjoy the swim, as it's a top-100 open water swim in the country, and racers from Canada have been a big part of the swim's history.

"The year after the pandemic, we only had one swimmer from Canada," Zuberbuhler said. "We still sang the Canadian anthem when they weren't here, but we're happy to have the Canadians back at the event. About 10 percent of our racers are Canadian every year."

From the beginning, the Long Bridge Swim has been run by volunteers. Registration, transportation, logistics, food, safety, t-shirts, medical support, fundraising, and more are all handled by local volunteers.

At the end of the swim, there will be a celebration at the dog beach for everyone who has completed the swim with food, prizes, music, and awards for those who place in their age groups.

In 2012, Ridgeway handed over event director duties to Zuberbuhler.

Zuberbuhler is also the event and board chair of the non-profit organization.

He competed in his first Long Bridge swim back in 2001 and hasn't missed an event since.

He trained especially hard for the 2003 swim with a goal of finishing in the top-25 and came in 26.

He labeled it as his "greatest athletic achievement."

In the summer of 2008, there were a lot of high-profile drownings of teenage children in the area. It turned out none of the victims knew how to swim and none of their companions knew what to do to help.

Zuberbuhler spent the next year determining how common the problem was in north Idaho, and a year later, he launched a 3-day water safety training aimed at third-grade students.

Dick Cvitanich, the then superintendent of LPOSD, was immediately supportive of district classes engaging in the new program.

The volunteers from the Long Bridge Swim have also helped the city of Sandpoint in numerous ways.

In 2014, the Long Bridge Swim helped lead the fundraising charge to match the City's cost for buying the mechanized "pooper scooper" rake for City Beach, designed to remove the residue from geese.

In 2016, the Long Bridge Swim Partnered with the city to sort out the permitting required to replace 12 pilings from Dog Beach along the causeway to the Bridge.

The Long Bridge Swim purchased the new steel pilings and coordinated with Jim Woodward and Apex Construction, who installed the pilings at no charge.

In the fall of 2019, the Long Bridge Swim began discussions with the City of Bonners Ferry regarding developing water safety and swim lessons for Boundary County. The goal was to begin the first programs in the summer of 2020, but the pandemic put the programs on hold.

In the summer of 2021, the swim collaborated with the City of Sandpoint's Parks & Rec; and YMCA to provide a water safety program to third graders. They couldn't serve last year due to the pandemic. Though it was logistically and financially, they pulled it off and provided two weeks of lessons at City Beach.

The Long Bridge Swim has also been keen to develop a program for the West Bonner School District, but the lack of a public (or private) pool in Priest River area has stymied their efforts thus far.

This year, the swim's efforts are to partner with PORPA (Pend Oreille Rowing and Paddling Association) in Priest River to offer swim lessons to children in Priest River. They hope to offer the first round of lessons at the "Mudhole" by next summer.

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