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Islanders take to open water to combat pandemic weariness- by Alorie Gilbert

By guest blogger and longtime Islander, Alorie Gilbert

When open water swimmer Kelly Danielson announced to friends and family last May that she planned to swim around Bainbridge Island over the course of a month, she was craving an athletic challenge, an adventure and, perhaps most of all, a mental break from the monotony of more than two months in coronavirus lockdown. Danielson’s job as a special ed teacher had largely been put on hold since school buildings emptied in mid-March.

It kind of got me through all this with the coronavirus,” said Danielson, who completed the 45.2 mile “skin” swim (meaning she didn’t wear a wetsuit) in 28 days. “Everyday I had to plan my route, look at currents and conditions. It gave me something to focus on.”

Danielson is hardly alone in finding relief from the pandemic blues by taking to the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound and circumnavigating Bainbridge Island powered only by their own limbs.

Bridget Weibel, a 2020 BHS graduate, turned graduation lemons into lemonade with a two-day walk/swim around the island in June with her friend Lina Klinkenberg.

Bridget & Lina

Former Marine and fitness enthusiast Steve Rhoades planned to celebrate his 67th birthday last month by paddleboarding around the island and then cycling the entire Chilly Hilly loop in a single day -- a 63-mile trek all together. 

On Saturday, 30 swimmers and 23 paddle boarders are set to partake in the annual Arms Around Bainbridge fundraiser and relay around the island -- more participants than usual, according to organizers. “This year is better than average,” relay manager Ken Goodman told the Bainbridge Island Review. “Open-water swimming seems to have really boomed this year because the pool is closed, so more people are now comfortable with swimming in Puget Sound.”

The fundraiser’s mission also seems particularly apropos -- money raised goes to island residents struggling financially due to a serious illness. The group has distributed nearly $1 million over its 14 years in operation and aims to raise $30,000 with this year’s relay through participants’ own fundraising efforts and pledges from local businesses, individuals and philanthropies. 

It makes sense to graduate Bridget Weibel that islanders would find relief from dark times on the shore and in the water. There is, after all, something life-affirming about being in nature. She and Lina had talked about an around-the-island adventure for a couple of years. Suddenly there was no time like the present.  “We had done nothing for months so we were like, we’re just going to do it,” she explained.  “We needed an adventure, and we had a lot of time.”

One advantage to an adventure so close to home was all the support that family and friends provided, Weibel noted. After she and Klinkenberg walked more than 23 miles on their first day (with a swim across Eagle Harbor to boot), her parents set up camp and prepared a meal for them at Fay Bainbridge Park. Friends and family provided meals and supplies throughout the 49-hour saga. 

Danielson, too, found that support from her friends and the swimming community was the highlight of her experience. Her husband and various friends paddled alongside her for some of the hairiest stretches, including gnarly currents in Rich Passage and Rolling Bay. Several friends in the open water swimming community joined her for her final mile into Blakely Harbor while friends and family surprised her with a boat parade. “The people who came out there and made it possible with me, that was the coolest thing.”

Relevant links

Follow Danielson's adventure on her Facebook page:

Alorie Gilbert, Bainbridge Resident &


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