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You read that right. Record Holder. Eliza Cummings is the youngest swimmer to ever complete the Plymouth to Provincetown (“P2P” as the insiders call it) 20-mile swim. If you’re like me, just thinking about swimming that far is exhausting. But Eliza is a rockstar.

Eliza was looking for a place to train for her epic marathons, when someone recommended the J’s indoor pool. Turns out, it wasn’t just the pool that Eliza found – but a community of swimmers who helped her persevere through the tough days and make it to the finish line.

Eliza was kind enough to sit down with me in the JCC lobby and share her story for our new series #lobbytalks. Within a few minutes, I was hooked by her engaging, bubbly, and fun personality.

Check out her story below. I think you’ll be as enamored with her as we are here at the J.

How did you first hear about the J?

I was coming back to Denver for the summer (last year) and I knew I was going to need to find somewhere to train. My girlfriend was helping me try to find some places and found the JCC and told me I needed to check it out, she told me that they have a great outdoor meter pool. So I came in and took a tour!

Actually when I was younger, I used to nanny for some kids. Their family had a membership to the J and I used to take them here. Now Zara, who I used to nanny, is now a lifeguard!

Indoor or outdoor pool?

Oh! Outdoor pool. I think the indoor pool is great for swim lessons but kept a little too warm for lap swimming.

What do you think about the recent changes in the building (new lobby, paint etc.)?

It’s beautiful! I think one of the things that I love so much about the J is it’s just not a fitness center, but it really feels like a community and there are so many beautiful spaces that you can be in and work in.

Tell me about your last marathon swim?

It’s called Plymouth to Provincetown (P2P), extending from mainland Massachusetts to the tip of the hook. It’s a 20-mile swim. I’ve always wanted to do a Triple Crown Swim but all those swims are super expensive. I was looking for something more financially viable, I’m in college and don’t have $25,000 to swim from England to France.  Someone recommended the P2P to me and that’s now I heard about it.

Did you hit your goal to swim the marathon in 10-15 hours?

I did! I did it in 9 hours and 37 minutes! I broke the previous record by 6 minutes. Going into it, I knew that only 7 people had completed it before me, so I knew to be the 8th person to complete it would be great and I also knew I was going to be the youngest swimmer to complete it. I didn’t think I was actually going to be able to sneak in there and set the first record.

What is like to swim for 9 hours straight? What are you thinking about?

9 hours is a definitely a long time, for me those kinds of swims are 90% mental because by the time that you get there, you’ve physically prepared yourself (or hopefully). It’s really just the mental challenge of getting your mind on board to be able to continuously go stroke by stroke.

The biggest thing for me was focusing on 30 minute increments. Every 30 minutes I would stop, tread water (without touching the boat or kayak that kept bedside her during the race), feed, and drink water. I also played a lot of mental games. One of which is a gratitude game, where I thought of 30 people I am grateful for who helped me get to this swim, a lot of them were JCC members!

What do you enjoy most about swimming?

I think it’s such a repetitive, tranquil thing and it can really be anything you want it to be. Either challenging yourself to do some sprints or you could do nice, slow, repetitive strokes. It’s really what you make of it. I think so many of us are overstimulated with modern technology, super busy all the time…it’s really nice to get in the pool and focus on what the water sounds like or what my body is doing.  It really helps me simplify a lot of things and I can take that time to slow down and it’s a little meditative.

How do you stay motivated?   

Oh, that’s a really good question. I think a couple of things, one: when you decided to do a swim like this, you have to think of the why you want to do it, before you do it; and not just because you think you have to or think it’s a cool thing to do. It really has to be this intrinsic motivation. I also think it’s important to surround yourself in a positive and, supportive environment.

The intrinsic stuff gets you to the pool or to the gym everyday, but once you’re there, sometimes it’s really hard to stay on it. Sometimes you need your support team to get you through those days when you’re feeling not on your game. A lot of my support team consist of the early morning swimmers at the J. Once I met all of them and we became friends, I knew I’d have to get up early in the morning if I wanted to swim with them. That’s a big motivating factor, knowing that if I get here early, I’d be around my JCC crew.

Actually a couple of the swimmers from the JCC took me to my first open water swim out at the Chatfield reservoir. The JCC is really not just a place to work out, it’s a community of people who rally around you and support you. Steve (another JCC member) picks me up every Saturday and we go work out together.

Do you plan to continue open water swimming after you graduate college?

I do! I actually have my eye on a few other open water swims for next summer. The open water bug totally bit me. Next summer I want to do the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (one of the Triple Crown swims), there’s also a scar series which is a 4 lake, 40 mile swim that stretches over 4 days. There’s also a relay race taking place in the Catalina channel. A couple of my college girl friends and I want to swim it, if we do it, we would be the first female team in history to compete.  To do all these swims though, I’m really hoping to get sponsored. I have plans to start seeking out sponsorship after I graduate.

To hear more about Eliza’s journey, check out her blog here: https://elizaopenwater.wordpress/com