A slow shutter speed captures a painterly scene at the Swim24 Challenge. Photo by Chris Stone

Robert Loreto of Solana Beach trains only a week ahead of time for the annual Swim24 Challenge with the goal of “survival, making sure I get to each end.”

Robert Loreto of the Qualcomm Pirates team uses backstroke, but didn’t fall asleep during his 64 laps over 78 minutes. Photo by Chris Stone

Qualcomm teammate Grace “Gracie” van der Byl put her 6-month-old daughter in her husband Neil’s arms and swam an hour Saturday night — nothing compared with her world-record 7 hours, 27 minutes crossing from Catalina island to the mainland in 2012.

Or her goal of tackling the English Channel. “The minute she’s old enough, I’m taking her with me,” said van der Byl, 39.

Different strokes for different folks.

With a DJ playing songs like “Smoke on the Water,” the Canyonview Aquatics Complex at UC San Diego was rocking from noon Saturday to noon Sunday for the fourth annual fundraiser to benefit Waterproofing San Diego.

About 230 swimmers took part, raising more than $100,000 for the Drowning Prevention Foundation of San Diego, also known as San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation, said the group’s CEO, Corey McClelland.

Making cameo appearances under the lights were Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and San Diego’s chief lifeguard, Rick Wurts.

“She swam for over a half-hour” a little after midnight, said McClelland, a former city lifeguard who quit counting after making 1,000 rescues. “Chief Wurts swam for just under an hour.”

But getting credit for every 50-yard lap of the 25-yard wide pool was Elizabeth Schlicher, who nearly doubled the mileage of the No. 2 swimmer. The ocean swimming champion covered 614 laps, or nearly 17.5 miles. She spent 7 1/2 hours in the water, divided among three teams.

Swimmers in 12-member teams had to raise at least $100 each, “about what it takes to teach a child to swim,” McClelland said, noting that 2,500 kids went through the program this summer at city pools, YMCAs and Barrio Station.

The focus is on inner-city underserved kids, he said. “It’s all about drowning prevention. … Drowning is the leading cause of death in the United States for kids 1-4” and No. 2 cause for kids 4-14.


At the weekend relay challenge, the youngest were 5 and 6. Masters swimmers (including adults well past Medicare age) took part as well.

All told, swimmers tracked by the phone app over the weekend went 29,867 laps, or 848 miles. Top team was Bay City Swimmers, with 2,079 laps (59 miles).

In its fourth year, the Swim24 Challenge fell short of last year’s 32,860 laps or the record 33,356 laps (947 miles) set in 2014.

“We definitely need to do more marketing earlier,” said foundation CEO McClelland. “We’d like to target more of the schools to get them out.”

Even though all 20 lanes were in use at one of the complex’s two pools, “we can put two teams per lane as well,” he said.

Grace van der Byl heads underwater after the halfway point of a 50-yard lap. Photo by Chris Stone

But at least this year, he said, nobody set the sprinklers to work after midnight, when many swimmers take breaks in a couple dozen tents set up on the grassy area near the main pool.

Swimmer Loreto does his part for the challenge because “I have two kids myself” — a son 14 and daughter 11, who both can swim. “I thought: What a great event.” The 47-year-old logged 62 laps (about 1.7 miles).

Qualcomm’s senior director of IT was part of the Qualcomm Pirates team, one of three the tech giant fielded over the weekend.

Van der Byl, whose husband, Neil, works at Qualcomm, also coaches the renowned Rancho San Dieguito Boys and and Girls Club Swim Team.

She supports any cause that helps kids learn how to swim, she said. “Waterproofing San Diego is super near and dear to my heart.”

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