DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Fran Schnarr" Is Dead...

For nearly the last 20 years, the open-water swimming community has paid tribute to the memory of Fran Schnarr, a long-time advocate and champion of swimming, who died in December of 1991. This tribute took the form of the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay," an annual swimming race held in early July and venued in the challenging waters of Huntington Bay on the North Shore of Long Island. From time to time the race, which routinely included age-group events for children, also included a 10K competition, and the Fran Schnarr Memorial race consistently attracted world-class competitors from around the globe. Most notable among these is seven-time World Marathon Swimming Champion Shelley Taylor-Smith, a close personal friend of Fran Schnarr and her family who has swum this event several times, most recently in 2010. So venerable is the tradition of the Fran Schnarr Memorial Swim that in July 2010 the United States Coast Guard established a permanent Special Local Regulation to protect the swimmers and their safety craft, which was published in the Federal Register and is a permanent part of the Congressional record (Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 128, Tuesday, July 6, 2010, Rules and Regulations, p. 38710).

With but a few exceptions, the Fran Schnarr Memorial Swim has been organized and directed nearly every year since its inception by Bea Hartigan, a Huntington resident and long-time friend of Fran Schnarr, whose grown children still fondly refer to Bea as "Mrs. H." Like Fran Schnarr herself, Bea is also a lifelong swimming advocate, and her many contributions to the sport were recently recognized in an article on Steven Munatone’s reknowned blog, The Daily News of Open Water Swimming (http://www.dailynewsofopenwaterswimming.com/2011/02/bea-all-you-can-bea.html) and in the Huntington Patch on January 31, 2011 (http://huntington.patch.com/articles/bea-hartigan-steps-up). In 2008, Bea, a swimming coach, first aid instructor, meet director and official with Metropolitan Swimming, the local chapter of USA Swimming, was inducted into the Metropolitan Swimming Hall of Fame.

As she had every year since she first undertook shepherdship of the event, in January 2011 Bea Hartigan submitted her usual sanction application to USA Swimming for the "2011 Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" – what would have been the event’s 20th anniversary. Instead of being granted in due course, however, as it had been in past years, the application was "tabled" and then, on February 26, 2010, denied on the basis of unspecified "situations that arose in previous years." On learning of the denial, I spoke with representatives of the Open Water Committee of USA Swimming as well as the Metropolitan local masters swimming committee (LMSC) of US Masters Swimming, who told me bluntly that the Fran Schnarr Memorial race would not be sanctioned "if Bea Hartigan has anything to do with it." When questioned about the reasons for such a drastic restriction (apparently without any disciplinary action having been taken, and without "due process" and a fair hearing), the representatives only spoke vaguely of "problems" with past events.

As a veteran of three past "Fran Schnarr 5K in the Bay" swims (2007, 2008 and 2010), and as a spectator at the 2009 event, I can confirm that there have been "problems" with some of the recent races that did NOT have to do with devilishly freakish currents and occasional jellyfish infestations that are hallmarks of the Fran Schnarr swim. In 2009, the eastern turnaround boat inexplicably – and unforgivably – simply failed to arrive, leaving swimmers confused and disoriented and rendering the results uncertifiable. Last year (2010) a contretemps ensued involving the disqualification of a 10K swimmer for allegedly illegal contact with his support kayak, which was later reversed (without, however, reversing the bitter controversy that ensued). Reportedly, some of the younger swimmers also went amuck last year and crashed the pool and members’ cabanas at the Bay Club where the race has historically been held. In other years, the race has not always started on time, there have been too few marker buoys and/or kayakers to keep swimmers on course, and the timekeepers have sometimes seemed uncertain and overwhelmed. Still, despite the "problems," I (and innumerable other Fran Schnarr veterans) have treasured every one of my "Fran Schnarr" races, and have admired and appreciated Bea Hartigan for her virtually single-handed efforts in making the race happen, year after year after year. Indeed, if Bea is to be faulted for anything, it may be her predilection for "singlehandedness" and a tendency to try to "do it all" – which peccadillo unfortunately appears to have invoked the rancor of the sanctioning bodies and/or their leaders.

Determined to keep the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" alive, a group of local Huntington swimmers (myself included) immediately convened to lend our support in the hopes that a "committee" approach to organizing the race would deflect any personal animosity of the sanctioning organizations towards Bea Hartigan. Our plan was to "track" the Huntington-Cold Spring Harbor 1 & 2 Mile Swim planning process, with which several of us were intimately involved (and which was being organized by the open-water chairpersons of USA Swimming), and thus ensure that all sanctioning requirements were met. Despite our involvement, we were told by the sanctioning officials that if Bea was involved in any "official" capacity, as anything other than a mere "volunteer," the race would not be sanctioned. Period.

In light of the fact that Bea Hartigan is one of but a handful of local officials certified to direct open-water events, her exclusion from the planning process was devastating. More devastating still was the reaction of the Schnarr family – Fran Schnarr’s adult children, who had been avid sponsors and supporters of the race since its inception. Faced with this extremely onerous constraint, and the insult embodied in the relegation of their friend Bea Hartigan to the role of a mere anonymous volunteer in a race that bore their mother’s name, the Schnarr family requested that the committee discontinue its efforts, and withdrew its sponsorship and support. Reluctantly, the committee agreed to defer to the wishes of the Schnarr family, and accordingly, there will be no "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" in 2011....or ever again. An innocent victim of organizational politics and personalities, the "Fran Schnarr Memorial 5K in the Bay" is, after nearly 20 years, dead....

Rest in peace, Fran Schnarr....May your memory live on....


  1. Thanks Carol. Great write-up! Horrible situation!

  2. What Mike said. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to swim it once.

  3. Carol,

    Thanks for the well written article. This is very sad.

  4. First as full disclosure,Bea is my Aunt.
    I have been a helping Bea with this swim for about 10 years. I have been involved in Raceday set up and as part of the on-water safety group.I have seen first hand the amount of organization that has gone into this event. Yes,there have been what I would call small glitches over the years. But remember EVERYONE who helped out was a volunteer.
    It is shame that a very small amount of people have taken away an event that was enjoyed and looked forward to by so many swimmers every year.
    I do take issue with some of the complaints.
    Buoys, We always had (in my opinion) more than enough of them. The problem was "some" swimmers who would not pay attention at the pre-race meeting. I can't tell you how many times right after the meeting we would get asked, "where is the start, first turn etc.." As for kayaks. Yes,more is always better. Very few swimmers tried to bring their own kayakers. We NEVER had a swimmer get into any kind of trouble that was not immediately assisted.
    Which brings us to the one swimmer who was DQ'd for hanging on the Kayak. That decision was not done lightly,nor without a complete review of the incident.
    The time keeping was always accurate.Never was a swimmer missed or given a wrong time. They kept the time while cheering the swimmers and yelling to them them to make sure that they touched the end of the dock to finish the race. I can't tell you how many times swimmers would ignore the wide string of buoys set up to guide them to the finish.
    I am truly sorry for all of the underage swimmers who will no longer be able to grow through this event. Over the years many had started out doing the 1000meter between the docks and progressed up to the 5K itself.
    This was all politics. Dirty cheap politics.And those involved should ashamed at the death of this event.

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  6. I am so sorry to see this event shelved. Great writing Carol.

    Christine MacDonald