An Unexpected Open Water Challenge: 40 Miles Across Arizona

Rice was introduced to the SCAR Swim in 2021 after running into Sarah Thomas, the first swimmer to swim the English Channel four times in a row, at a spring-fed pond preferred by swimmers in suburban Denver. Thomas, who works as a recruiter, has an eye for talent. She chatted him up and trained with him. In the 2021 event, he was first overall, and she won the women’s draw, finishing second overall.

The 2022 overall winner, Steven Munatones, 60, finished Saguaro in third place last month, just over 11 minutes behind Rice. Munatones has dedicated his life to the sport. In the 1970s, he was a teenage reporter for international swim publications. In the 1990s, he won two U.S. Masters national championships in the open water, and he was among a small international cohort who helped get open water swimming into the Olympics in 2008, an effort that had continued since the 1980s.

In 2016, Munatones had a heart attack at home in Huntington Beach, Calif. His teenage son performed C.P.R. until help arrived. After years of recovery, he began dreaming of open water swimming again during the pandemic. He hadn’t swum more than a few thousand yards since 1994, but he registered for SCAR last year. He trained hard, perhaps harder than ever, and surprised himself and everyone else with the win.

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