Local high school swimmers take on the Swim 24 Challenge

The Aquanauts at the start the last year's Swim24 Challenge.

The Swim24 Challenge will return to the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito’s Pardee Aquatics Center in Solana Beach on Aug. 24-25. In the event, teams of up to 12 people will take to the pool to swim in a 24-hour relay to raise funds to combat childhood drowning.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1-14. For minority children and children under the age of 4, drowning is the leading cause of death. The average cost to teach a child to swim is $100, so each member of a Swim24 Challenge team will raise enough money to save a life.

The Swim24 Challenge benefits the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego, which funds free swimming lessons for underserved youth in partnership with San Diego County YMCA and the San Diego Unified School District. Through their Aquatic Safety/Bridge to Beaches Education program, the foundation takes groups of new swimmers to the beach for the day, many of whom have never been to the ocean before, to learn about beach safety.

To date, the Prevent Drowning Foundation has affected more than 100,000 lives in the San Diego community by providing swimming lessons to those who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

Last year, Torrey Pines High School swimmer Stephan Lukashev decided he would hop in the pool for the Swim24 Challenge once he heard about the cause it supported.

“It really touched my heart as someone who has swam my whole life to give the chance for others to learn how to swim,” said Stephan, a rising senior who is a US Junior National level swimmer on the Rancho San Dieguito Swim Club team. During the summer, he works as a San Diego City lifeguard and as a swimming instructor at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center.

Last year, Stephan’s team of 12 was called Aquanauts and Buccaneers, teaming up with swimmers from Mission Bay High School.

One of his fellow Aquanauts, Jazzy Walker, a long distance freestyler with Rancho San Dieguito and a junior at Cathedral Catholic High School, said the hardest part of the challenge was the swimming at 2 a.m., “slightly sleep deprived.” Dinner and breakfast are served up on the pool deck and swimmers can nap in the gym camping area while the relay continues through the night. Jazzy said while she might have been in the pool early in the morning alone, there is always a friend on the deck counting laps and offering encouragement.

Stephan said while the “mental game” of endurance swimming and those middle of the night laps can be a challenge, the event is a lot of fun.

“The environment was very enthusiastic,” said Stephan, noting some people even take to paddling in floats to get in laps.

The 2018 Aquanauts (left to right) : Rachel Rhee, Margarita Hill, Stephan Lukashev, Jasmine Walker, Rylee Gordillo and Amelia Cho.
The 2018 Aquanauts (left to right) : Rachel Rhee, Margarita Hill, Stephan Lukashev, Jasmine Walker, Rylee Gordillo and Amelia Cho.

While the event is light-hearted, there is some serious swimming going on—Stephan was amazed by the performance of open water swimmer Gracie Van der Byl, a coach of the Rancho San Dieguito swim team, who spent a total of 11 hours, 50 minutes and 41 seconds in the pool, swimming 635 laps.

Last year Stephan wasn’t quite sure what to expect but his team ended up with the second highest laps, swimming 1,799 laps or 51.1 miles. They lost to the Bay Club of Carmel Valley’s team of masters swimmers who logged 2,060 laps.

Their surprise second place performance last year sparked Stephan’s competitive nature for this year’s Swim24 Challenge.

“We’re going for the most laps and I think we can do it. We have a lot of strong swimmers this year and swimmers who are capable of higher distances,” Stephan said.

His team this year, The Aquanauts and Joe (the Joe being Rancho San Dieguito’s head coach Joe Benjamin) consists of several Rancho San Dieguito teammates, some of them CIF swim champions, who were more available for this year’s event as they will be on a training break having finished competing at Futures Championships, Junior Nationals and Western Zones meets. His team so far includes Jazzy, Carlos Munoz Renteria, Kathryn Lundh, Yuma Dugas from Cathedral Catholic; Mia Kragh, Eric Workman and Taylor Lyon from Torrey Pines; Connor Mes from Carlsbad High; and Aiden Benjamin from La Costa Canyon.

This year the Aquanauts also hope to break last year’s total amount raised of $2,200 and are working on sponsorships from local businesses. To donate to Team Aquanauts, visit crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/aquanauts-and-joe

To learn more about the Swim 24 Challenge visit preventdrowningfoundation.org/swim24challenge