The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 11, 2020 1:00 am

Caribbean isles beckon

Area woman sets sights on 40-mile open-water swim

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Most people head to the Caribbean Islands at this time of year to relax and work on replenishing their tans. Katie Blair of Huntington is going to give herself an extreme physical endurance test.

Blair, 41, will try to swim next week from St. Lucia to Martinique, which is almost 20.5 miles, plenty long enough for most endurance swimmers.

Then she's going to turn around and go back the other way.

“I was just trying to kind of see if I can expand on the distance a little bit,” she said. “I've done 20-mile swims before, so this was kind of the natural progression.”

In fact, since 2008, Blair has challenged herself by taking on some of the world's most historic long-distance swims. She swam around Key West in 2009, and around Manhattan Island in 2010 before free-styling across the English Channel in 2012.

She swam from Molokai to Oahu in Hawaii in 2013, and in 2019 she almost set the women's record for the fastest swim across Lake Erie, covering 23.8 miles in just under 14 hours.

Blair was the 57th person overall and the 23rd woman to complete the triple crown of open-water swimming – the English Channel (21 miles); the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and the California mainland (20 miles); and swimming around Manhattan Island in New York (28.5 miles). Only 252 people have accomplished that feat.

“I've always been really attracted to the water even as a kid,” she said. “When I was in middle school, I got into competitive swimming. I tried running for a little bit, but that was hard, and I always came back to swimming.”

Blair grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and met her first husband who was stationed in Heidelberg before moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2003.

Four years ago, she moved to Huntington where she works as a mental health counselor at the Otis R. Bowen Center.

She's hoping to make her attempt Tuesday with a team watching closely, but the tides and weather may affect when Blair goes. She's scheduled to come home Oct. 19, after a few days to relax and restore.

“For me, it's more of a mental challenge,” she said. “In marathon swimming you have to deal with a lot of sensory deprivation, so you have to find a way to manage your emotions and motivate yourself continually. I find that aspect the most challenging part of it.”

Maybe she'll plan her next book. In September, Blair published “Lessons from the Water” on Amazon. It details her accomplishments and the physical and mental challenges she's overcome in her life.

It has been a challenge to get ready for this swim, which was originally scheduled in June and had to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. That also cut into her training schedule because the Huntington YMCA was closed, knocking her out of the water for five or six weeks. Blair had to wait until it was warm enough to resume swimming in the large pond behind her house.

She traditionally swims year-round at the YMCA and then attempts some of her longer swims in Indianapolis-area lakes.

This time, she had to concentrate on shorter distances with a faster pace than normal during her morning routine before reporting to work.

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