A test of endurance for marathon mom


July 01, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LIKE MANY MOTHERS, Emily Watts is busy ferrying her 4-year-old daughter Jackie to sports and craft camps this summer. She's also entertaining her 2-year-old daughter, Lauren.

When she's not tied up with the Mom Shuffle, the former Robert Moton Elementary School teacher trains for marathon open-water swims and racks up victory after victory - as well as international acclaim.

On June 23, she won the 21st annual Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. It was the first time she entered the 28 1/2 -mile race, but she outpaced 14 solo swimmers and seven relay teams and finished in 7 hours, 46 minutes and 10 seconds.

"The biggest reward is the personal satisfaction," Watts, 34, said a few days after the race. "Swimming is like a drug to me. I crave swimming. I enjoy doing it. I don't know how else to explain why I do these marathons."

Throughout the Manhattan Island marathon, Watts' husband, Rick, and friend Vicki Anders rode in a boat beside her as she swam in the Hudson and East rivers. They were Watts' support team, and their job was to send out a 12-foot pole rigged with a cup holder and a net and feed her every 30 minutes.

"We would send out a 9-ounce cup of a sport drink or some power gel. She'd grab the cup, swig it down and throw the trash in the basket every 30 minutes like clockwork to keep hydrated," said Rick. "Feeding took 10, 15 seconds tops - and with 15 stops, that quick time becomes crucial."

As her support crew, Rick and Anders also kept track of Emily's stroke rate. Rick credits the victory to her maintaining a 78- to 80-stroke-a-minute count for the entire race, despite cold, polluted, turbulent water and heavy boat traffic.

"There was no drop at the end. That shows her strength and her ability to stay focused," Rick said. "It's so nerve-wracking [watching her swim] because I want her to do well, to meet the goal she worked hard for. And she did it. When she hit the five-hour mark, she started doing her best. She kept a 600- to 1,000-yard lead."

The next morning, The New York Times sports section as well as NBC and local radio stations reported the news of Emily Watts' victory.

But seconds after she crossed the finish line, news of her victory reached friends and family members in Carroll County and Watts' hometown of Millers.

"I ran around the house screaming with excitement when I found out she won," said Mira Foote of Westminster. "She is such a great athlete and a great mom. And she isn't chasing glamour or fame - she just loves to swim. This win is an exciting treat, like icing on her cake."

Watts' sister, Amy Durdon of Westminster said, "Usually I'm on the cell phone getting updates during the race from Rick every two hours."

This time, I was at the pool. When my husband said, `Emily finished and she won,' I cried. My hair stood up on end and I cried because I know how hard she has worked for this. But most people don't know that because she is so humble."

Watts spends as many as 16 hours a week training, squeezing in pool time and weight training at University of Maryland, Baltimore County or the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium during the wee hours of the morning while her children are asleep.

She says she swims more than 20 miles a week.

"I do a lot of mental preparation too because after five hours, when the body is gone, it becomes a mental game," she said.

"I've learned to focus on a trigger word or a positive event instead of focusing on how tired I am," Watts said.

She thinks about strong swims such as the one in August in Atlantic City, N.J., where she won in the race's amateur division and qualified for distance swimming's pro circuit. Or when she is tired, she focuses on her successes with Chesapeake Bay swims and the Tampa Bay Marathon.

"Emily has shown me that when you believe in yourself and you put your mind to something, you can overcome anything. You have to push past comfort zones and all doubt," said Westminster resident Jen Caple, a triathlete who traveled to Atlantic City to watch Watts compete.

For now, Watts says, she has met her goal for the summer. Training and decisions about joining the pro circuit and future races take a back seat to motherhood.

"Happily, my children dictate my life and my time to train and compete," Watts said. "With the pro circuit, you either do it, or you don't. No in-betweens. There are at least four races on four continents, which sounded great at first. But this last race made me eager to focus on my family again."

Living Treasure

West Middle School pupil Doug Armstrong honors his neighbor Robert Martin as his Living Treasure this week.

"I chose Robert Martin to be my Living Treasure because he has always been there for me when I needed him the most," Doug wrote. "He has inspired me to be a better baseball player with love, compassion and confidence."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Submit a name and specific reasons why that person has been your living treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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