Some kids relax on summer vacation.
Not Vera Rivard.
The 16-year-old Springfield, N.H., native recently completed the 20 Bridges Swim, a 28.5-mile circumnavigation around the Island of Manhattan, in a time of 7 hours, 57 minutes.
“It feels like a dream come true,” said Rivard, who summers in Derby and trains at Lake Memphremagog. “It’s something I really worked hard for. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure it was real.”
She joins elite company.
Only 1,123 had completed the 20 Bridges Swim before this year.
For Rivard, it was a no-brainer.
She loves swimming and she loves a challenge. Fueled by that drive and determination, she took aim at one of toughest open water swims in the world.
“I did it mostly to see if I could do it,” she said.
Heading into her junior year at Kearsage (N.H.) High School, Rivard has put together quite the career.
She was named the 2014 Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimmer of the Year at age 10. Two years ago she placed second in the 25-mile In Search Of Memphre marathon in 16 hours, 24 minutes. Last year she was named one of the World’s 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women by the World Open Water Swimming Association.
The 20 Bridges Swim was her greatest feat yet.
It is part of open-water swimming’s triple-crown along with the Catalina Channel and English Channel.
She aims to cross the English Channel in August, provided that pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted.
“I’ve been training almost two years for the English Channel,” she said, adding that she doesn’t have immediate plans for the Catalina Channel but “it’s on my bucket list.”
Rivard learned to swim at a young age and was hooked.
She began pool competition with the Upper Valley Aquatics Center in White River Junction when she was 5.
Then she discovered a passion for open water. It began with half-mile swims across the lake outside her childhood home. That lit a fire.
Open water is to swimming what marathons are to running. And Rivard discovered she was an endurance athlete.
At age 10, she did the one mile Kingdom Swim on Lake Memphremagog. Then she did the six-miler, then the 10-miler, then marathon length events. She is the youngest to swim the 25-mile length of Lake Memphremagog, doing so at age 14.
“I train all year,” she said. “I’m in the water from the day the ice is out until the ice freezes again in the fall. And I do the [Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival]. I really don’t stop.”
Rivard was the first swimmer this year to attempt the 20 Bridges Swim, which is sanctioned by New York Open Water.
Wearing a patriotic red, white, and blue swimsuit, she entered the water at the southern top of Manhattan Island at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Starting at Pier A, she followed a route that followed the East River, Harlem River and Hudson River.
She was accompanied by a seven-person team that included her mother Darcie DeBlois-Rivard and 13-year-old sister (and fellow open water swimmer) Margaret Rivard. Her father Kevin monitored her progress from shore.
Following the rules of open water swimming, she was provided food and water but was not allowed a flotation device or a helping hand to remain afloat. An observer makes sure those rules are followed.
The swim took her past the Statue of Liberty and past the world-famous skyline. A handful of friends and supporters popped up along the route. Conditions were ideal with calm waters and warm temperatures.
Rivard never ran into trouble. Even if she did, she would’ve gutted it out, she said.
“I am known to be ridiculously stubborn,” she said. “I’m not going to be the one to pull myself out of the water. Either I’m going to finish or they’ll have to pull me out.”
Now Rivard will focus on the English Channel.
After that, she’s not sure.
She still trains with Upper Valley Aquatics Center (her specialty is the mile, the longest event in pool events) and aims to compete at the college level.
Meanwhile she expressed interest in tackling new open water goals, like the treacherous Ocean’s Seven series of swims.
No matter what she does, you can expect it will be a challenge.
Said Rivard, “I feel like every swim you have to test yourself.”