If Randy Nutt has his way, open water swimming will cease being relegated to the summer months and become a year-round sport.
Nutt, whose surname befits his enthusiasm for all things aquatic, is an event organizer and race director for some of the sports most breathtaking open water swims, which span from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to the panoramic sea worlds of the South Pacific.
Rather than hold his events in the swim-friendly months between June and September, Nutt goes out of his way to plan races that fly in the face of convention and take place in October, November, and beyond...in locations where it never gets cold.
A former collegiate swimmer, Nutt planned his first open water race back in 1993 around Key West, Florida. What is now known as the Annual Swim Around Key West is largely Nutt's doing. Attracting swimmers from around the country (and a few from around the world), the swim has grown from 35 swimmers in its inaugural year to 400 currently [Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2001].
After a career as stockbroker with a grueling schedule that cut down on his time outdoors, Nutt traded in the business suit for a swimsuit and never looked back.
"I have always liked travel, and in college my swim team went to Brazil and taught swimming in the ocean to the locals," he said. "We had such a great time that I went back during summer break for a month and swam in the ocean every day. At that moment I knew I would do something involving travel, adventure, and swimming."
And swimming is only a small part of Nutt's popular events. The Swim Around Key West is a 13-mile adventure charting a full 360-degree circle around the southernmost tip of the United States. The course is full of evolving and unpredictable conditions at times warm, cool, current-prone, deep, and even shallow enough to the point of forcing swimmers to crawl through boggy sandbars. And yes, there's also the occasional (benign) shark sighting.
The annual five-mile Coral Reef Swim in St. Croix is another event growing in size and prestige thanks to Nutt's founding efforts. Although a bit more novice-friendly than the Swim Around Key West, the Coral Reef Swim offers spectacular underwater views of a tropical channel linking the marine preserve Buck Island to the picturesque shores of the Buccaneer resort (St. Croix's oldest and most luxurious hotel).
While casual swimmers may shudder to think of the physical demands required to complete such events, not to mention the cash required to compete in them, Nutt has thought of ways to make such experiences physically and fiscally nonpartisan. Working closely with local tourism boards, resort owners, and airlines, he's created all-in-one travel packages that appeal to the athlete rather than the corporate executive who has money to burn.
As far as completing those waterlogged five to 13 miles, there are three- and six-member relay team divisions as well as a fin division. Whatever floats your boat the important thing is that you finish and have a great time.
"A big, big motivation for me is creating something people can use as a goal and then helping them achieve their goal," Nutt says.
"I remember getting a call from Sharon Luka, a blind swimmer who asked if I would let her enter the Key West race. She had been turned down by several event directors for other events and when I said sure, she was thrilled. Well, she did the swim in under eight hours, and I'll never forget her smile and hug after finishing something that so many people said she could not do."
Nutt also puts his money where his mouth is; proceeds from his events are donated to local charities and programs. The Swim Around Key West raises funds for a local high school swim team, and it has been such a successful program that Nutt is turning it over to another Aquatics Director so that he can devote more attention on developing newer races with a cause. The Bonaire EcoSwim raises money and awareness for an organization for marine preservation.
Bonaire, a small island in the Dutch Caribbean, came about after Bonhata, its Hotel and Tourism Association, contacted Nutt and asked if he could help put on an event there. The popularity of the neighboring St. Croix event had island tongues wagging, and locals wanted to be in on the fund-raising fun.
Fun is the operative word here, in case you haven't gathered that by now.
"Being a swimmer and open-water competitor, you really gain an appreciation for what a swimmer might like in an event," Nutt explains.
"I keep that in mind when I plan these things, and really just try to cover expenses and put on a great race. The Bonaire EcoSwim came about because I wanted to have a positive impact on our environment while incorporating an open water swim with beautiful locations. Bringing swimmers to these areas harbors an appreciation for conservation in those areas."
Fun also comes in the way Nutt and his staff present each event. A group of volunteers is put to work arranging pre-race meals, post-race leisure-time activities, and clinics. One of the volunteers, John Ceraolo, has worked with Nutt for years, honing a stand-up comedy routine with humorous pre-race pep talks about the swim courses and event rules.
He is also one of the only volunteers who completes trial runs of future race courses. The day before this year's St. Croix event, Ceraolo completed the five-mile course not once, but twice, and encountered a 9-foot shark that he wisely avoided mentioning in that night's pre-race talk.
With a proven track record of several successful events and a growing list of sponsors that includes American Airlines and The Victor Swimwear, Nutt has founded an event-planning company called Aquamoon Adventures. Swimmers interested in learning more about upcoming Adventures can sign up to be on the site's mailing list.
"The Aqua was an obvious moniker; Moon was suggested by Claudia [Nutt's wife], and Adventure is Claudia and my lives together," laughs Nutt.
Indeed, Nutt has had some adventures of his own while planning and participating in his events. In Bimini one year he was supporting Florida's open water legend Gail Rice on a groundbreaking long-distance swim. Signing his name to and shepherding the 110-foot yacht that escorted Gail on her challenge, Nutt read in news reports shortly after the trip that boats such as his recently had been targeted by drug-smuggling, hijacking, murderous pirates...very likely missing his own crew by only a few nautical miles.
In another instance he tagged along with National Geographic on a Bimini expedition to research shark behavior (and presumably to test the waters for an upcoming race there). Surrounded by more than 30 large sharks without a shark cage, Nutt decided against hosting a swim there (at least not without an enormous insurance policy). To date, there has not been a Bimini swim in his name, much to his wife Claudia's relief.
Aquamoon Adventures is just a conduit for Nutt's motto: Life is precious, and so it should be interesting!
A former swimmer at Stanford University, Alex Kostich has stayed strong in the sport at the elite level even while maintaining a day job. The three-time Pan-American Games gold medalist still competes in—and wins—numerous open-water races around the world each year, as well as competing in the occasional triathlon and running race.