Back in January, Kansas swimming and diving coach Clark Campbell had to jump through more than a few hoops to bring to life his vision of hosting an open-water championship at Lone Star Lake just outside of town.
From requesting permission to use the lake to presenting paperwork to city commissioners and planning the logistics of the first meet of its kind ever sponsored by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, Campbell went to great lengths to make his vision a reality.
Beginning early this morning, Campbell will get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor when 72 athletes from five time zones and three NCAA divisions participate in two open-water races at Lone Star, the women at 8:30 a.m. and the men around 10. One individual from each race will be crowned champion and teams of three will compete for the team title.
"Getting open-water swimming into collegiate competition has always been a goal,” Campbell said. “To see it go from just an idea to seeing all those athletes cross that finish line will be a dream come true for me."
The field consists of 38 females and 34 males, including five Jayhawks — freshman Jenny Nusbaum and sophomores Breonna Barker, Haley Bishop, Cassaundra Pino and Libby Walker. Nusbaum and Walker both competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer. While Walker is experienced in open-water competition, today’s meet will mark the first ever open-water race for Walker, something she’ll have in common with more than a few members of the field.
"When we did this we had absolutely no idea what kind of response we would get," Campbell said. "My goal was 30 on both sides and we're a little bit over that, which is good. Combining all of the divisions has been a fun thing. We're thrilled. The University of Alaska-Fairbanks definitely gets the award for traveling the most miles. We have a lot of teams, diverse teams, it's been interesting to see the response. We hope it's a great experience for the coaches and student-athletes and is something they want to do again next year."
Admission to the event is free and spectators are encouraged to park in the lot above the beach, using the staircase to access the road and shoreline. Campbell said in January that spectators who feel so inclined should be able to watch roughly two-thirds of today’s races.