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Swimmers race 36 miles down Red River to East Grand Forks

Solo swimmer Kevin Kopplin, a resident of East Grand Forks, crosses under the bridge located at the Lincoln Golf Course Saturday afternoon while holding the lead spot in the END WET 36-mile swim downriver ultra-marathon. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
A rescue tube sits in a Grand Forks Sheriff's Water Rescue boat during the annual END WET long swim that runs from Belmont Park on the North Dakota side near Climax, Minnesota, and ends at the Cabela's in East Grand Forks. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Kathryn Fristad swims alongside a boat full of the other members of her five-person relay team during the END WET long swim on the Red River. Her team was the only relay to compete in the event, taking turns swimming two-mile stretches of the 36-mile race. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

About two dozen swimmers swam down the Red River to East Grand Forks Saturday in what’s billed as the longest open water swimming race in the country.

Extreme North Dakota Racing’s Watersports Endurance Test began at Belmont Park near Climax, Minn., 36 miles south of the Grand Forks area. Twenty-three solo swimmers and a five-person relay team, some of them coming from as far away as Hawaii, took to the water.

The event, now in its third year, was previously a 27-mile competition from Grand Forks to Oslo, Minn. But organizers wanted to give racers a better finish line experience, so the course and distance were changed this year.

One local racer, attorney Scott Jensen, said earlier this week that high water levels were causing fast currents. Water levels in the Red River measured at nearly 34 feet Saturday, up from about 20 feet a week earlier.

“This race is still going to be about which of these young people has got the most swimming ability at that distance,” he said.

Bill Daugherty traveled from Tucson, Ariz., to participate Saturday. The 71-year old said he used to run in marathons, but pounding the pavement took a toll on his knees.

“I just wanted something with a little competition,” he said.

Whatever their background, the swimmers making their way down the Red River Saturday “love seeing what they’re made of,” said one of the event’s organizers, Andy Magness.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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