Matthew Mays of St. Croix swam and ran to victory over St. John Olympian Rex Tillius Sunday at Hawksnest Beach. (photos by Judi Shimel)
HAWKSNEST BEACH — It wasn’t long after the staff and volunteers at Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park put up the “Finish” banner when the surf began to churn from the east. Good Hope/Country Day School senior Matthew Mays was in the lead.
In hot pursuit, Rex Tillius, the guy who represented the Virgin Islands at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
A small crowd gathered around the finish post. Mays hauled himself out of the surf and sprinted through, with Tillius on his heels.
In the end, it came down to one second. That’s all.
That was the difference between first and second place in the 14th Annual Beach to Beach Power Swim. Mays finished in 1:10:58; Tillius in 1:10:59. Hardy Lussier, a swimmer from Oregon, finished in 1:11:06.
It was also the latest victory for the Dolphins Swim Club of St. Croix.
The young Mays trotted up to the spot where his father, Brent — once also a competitive swimmer — waited with a pat on the shoulder.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, Matt called it a great day for a swim. “Conditions were pretty good. It was open, a little rough at times. It was me and two other guys out in front most of the time. And we were back and forth, on top of each other. It was a little annoying but it was part of the race,” the swimmer said.
Competition in the women’s long course saw Marina Falcone of Virginia finish in 1:18:15. Two St. Thomas women, Audrey Moore and Erin Hughes, finished second and third in 1:23:57 and 1:28:20, respectively.
Beach to Beach Power Swim is one of the most popular annual events hosted by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park. Director Joe Kessler said slots for the race in the long course, long course assisted, intermediate and short course — assisted and unassisted — maxed out at 350 days before the Sunday event.
Competitors from close to 30 states, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Spain, Germany and France, joined this year’s event. The farthest U.S. swimmer flew in from Hawaii.
There was also a seven member team with Team River Runner, military vets making the most of disability.
Veteran Ryan Major, a double amputee, wore short paddle fins on his hands and backstroked his way from Maho to Cinnamon Bay.
After his swim he relaxed in his customized wheelchair, joking with friends and making the acquaintance of 19-year-old Fillemon Wakuwile, a member of the St. Thomas Stingrays Swim Club.
“It was good. I finished the one mile. It was clear and the course was obvious. I could see where I was going and I knew where I was,” Major said.
A guide in a kayak kept pace with him as he made his way along his first long distance swim. After working with River Runner, the wounded warrior said he built confidence with kayaking and later with competitive 50 meter swims at the U.S. Army Warrior Games.
“Water is forever healing,” he said.