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High school teammates claim men’s, women’s championships at 15th annual Beaufort River Swim 

By Mike McCombs 

Last week, when Skylar Bruner, the Beaufort River Swim’s 16-year-old defending overall champion, was talking about what makes open-water swimming different from competing in a pool, she said, “It’s more about the way you swim the race. You can be fast, but it’s the smartest race that wins.” 

Bruner, a rising junior at Hilton Head Island High School, explained that spotting the buoys, taking the shortest route and knowing where everyone is around you are all important in an open-water race.

Blaise Minckler, Bruner’s teammate on the Seahawks, hadn’t quite mastered all of those skills in the 15th annual Beaufort River Swim on Saturday. Ironically, that may be the reason he’s this year’s overall champion with a blazing time of 47 minutes, 17.1 seconds.

Counting the buoys late in the race, Minckler determined he was nearing the finish and picked up his pace significantly for the homestretch. The only problem for Minckler? He wasn’t that close. There were more buoys left than he realized.

“If I hadn’t thought that, I probably wouldn’t have won,” Minckler said. “The finish was really so much farther. But I was able to keep my pace going.”

Blaise Minckler & Skylar Bruner

The River Swim was just the second open-water event Minckler, 15, has competed in, the first being the USA Swimming Open Water Nationals in April in Fort Myers, Fla. He certainly didn’t expect to win.

“No,” Minckler laughed. “I totally thought Cohen (Bruner) and Tommy (Hughson) were going to beat me. But I just pulled it out at the end.”

Minckler’s Hilton Head Island teammates, Bruner and Hughson, finished third and second, respectively.

Skylar Bruner came up short in her bid to repeat as overall champion, finishing fourth overall with a time of 49 minutes, 11.7 seconds. She did, however, claim her third straight female championship.

“It was really fun. I got to swim next to (my friends and Hilton Head Island teammates) the whole way. I would smile and we would see each other,” Bruner said. “It’s just a fun race. I love swimming with my friends and I love Beaufort. I love being here. It’s a nice track, a nice race course.”

Other winners

Jack Ussery, 15, was the overall and male champion in the biathlon (Swim + 5K) with a time of 2:10:07.7. On the women’s side, Claire Cuda, 34, was the champion with a time of 2:28:50.4.

Justin Bullard, 45, was the overall and male champion in the 5K with a time of 26:28.5. Elisabeth Snyder, 12, was the women’s champion with a time of 29:30.6.

In the Challenge (8K + Swim + 5K), Yorlliry Moreno, 30, was the overall and male champion with a time of 1:40:29.6. Heidi Gross, 33, was the women’s champion with a time of 1:43:17.1.

In the 8K, John Duberley, 33, was the men’s and overall champion with a time of 21:09.4. Gross was the women’s champion with a time of 23:05.3.

Complete final results can be found at GroundedRunning.com.

Behind the scenes

“I think it went really well,” Beaufort River Swim Event Director Denice Fanning said after the awards ceremony on Saturday morning. “(There were) a lot of details this year with all of the a la carte options. We had a couple of snafus. The bridge opened up but fortunately did not affect the bulk of the runners. Other than that, … there were no injuries. I think it was a success.”

The event brought in more than $6,000 over last year, close to $21,000 for this year’s event. The event’s proceeds help fund the Lowcountry YMCA’s Learn to Swim program.

Fanning attributed the increase in revenue to “about 65 more participants.”

Also, the Beaufort Sports Council helped secure a grant this year from S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism to fund race necessities, helping to keep expenses down and bring revenue up.

Fanning wanted to be sure the people in the water received the proper credit for the continuing success of the event.

“I could not do this event as successfully without the team that’s in the river, Fanning said. “George Utter is the lead coordinator of all the kayakers that assist the swimmers. His job is probably the most important to make sure that heads are accounted for and people safely make it to the finish.

“Clay Emminger and the Beaufort Water Rescue are also critical to the success of this event, as well as the Port Royal Police Department. I would definitely hand it to that group. This is our 15th year and everyone has made it to that ramp. Kudos to them.”

Fanning said the final tally for this year was 213 participants across all events, roughly 150 swimmers for the River Swim itself.

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

Photos by Susan Trogdon