Elizabeth Beisel makes history as first woman to successfully swim to Block Island

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 2:00pm

Elizabeth Beisel has been the darling of Rhode Island since she was 14 when she became the youngest member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic swim team. And she’s been wowing us ever since with three Olympic appearances and two medals.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, Beisel, now 29, made history again by becoming the first woman to successfully swim from the mainland to Block Island, taking a 10.4 mile route from Matunuck Beach to Sandy Point at the northernmost tip of the island, in just under five-and-a-half hours.
The event was a Swim Across America fundraiser for cancer research, dubbed “Block Cancer.” Beisel’s goal was to raise $100,000 but she quickly met and surpassed that goal with a total donated of over $133,000 by the time the swim took place. Her own father, “Teddy,” passed away from cancer in July.

Beisel’s not the first woman to attempt the swim though. In 1950, islander Rosemary Blane Belknap, the late sister-in-law of Edie Blane, almost made it, and the family lore is that she did. This swim was a race with several participants. But Edie told The Block Island Times that Rosemary never made it to shore, having to get back in the support boat that was manned by Fred Benson and her brother Edward Blane, who were her trainers. And in 1968, 17 swimmers partook in a World Professional Marathon Swimming Association race from Sand Hill Cove State Beach in Narragansett Bay to New Harbor. It was a longer route (14.1 miles) that took the two fastest swimmers, both men, eight hours and 11 minutes. The one female participant, Linda McGill of Australia, evidently became trapped in the current near Sandy Point and had to be picked up by the Coast Guard after 10 hours in the water.

Beisel struggled off Sandy Point, where the waters of the Atlantic Ocean meet the waters of Block Island and Long Island Sounds, and she was heard to say that it felt like she wasn’t making any progress until the support team, that included three boats and 2 kayakers guided her slightly to the east where she was finally able to swim to shore.
As she did, onlookers, including friends, family, media, and well-wishers, grew both excited and anxious. There were several seals about and as Beisel headed in, two started swimming right for her. Would they be territorial? Aggressive? Or were they just curious?

As soon as she got out of the water she was heard to say she wanted to get right back in the water. And then she said she had “wanted to stop and say ‘hi’ to the seals,” but couldn’t. But there were hugs to be had, first from mother Joanie.
Rules forbid stopping though. Beisel was adhering to the Marathon Swimmers Federation’s rules of marathon swimming under the watchful eye of Elaine Howley. Is this a hint of what’s next to come from Beisel? Brother Danny, perhaps her greatest admirer, says he’s awed by his sister and that once “she achieves one thing, she just goes on to the next,” but he wouldn’t reveal any specific plans.