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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 Herald

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 local business and North Dakota politics. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Bemidji Pioneer.  

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