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BOGACZYK: After Gibraltar Swim, Kramer Still Challenging Herself

Katie Kramer

May 26, 2014



HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's been two weeks since Katie Kramer made the swim of a lifetime - impressively crossing the Strait of Gibraltar as the youngest American woman to accomplish the feat.

You'd think that she might have taken a few cool-down laps, so to speak, since then.

Guess again. While she has taken time to reflect on her historic effort, time off just wouldn't be the ticket for the ambitious and driven recent Marshall graduate and prestigious Yeager Scholar, who will return here this summer for her senior season on the Thundering Herd swimming team and continue to work on her master's degree.

Just a few days after she reached the rocky Moroccan shore in Africa, becoming the 426th person in history to one-way swim the Strait of Gibraltar, Kramer headed to Germany.

"I'm here in Vallendar, Germany (a small town just outside Koblenz) at the Otto Beisheim School of Management's European Summer MBA Institute," Kramer said via email this weekend. "It's a two-week international program on the changing business environment in Europe.

"It was approved as an independent study and I'll get three credits towards my MBA degree."

No one should be surprised about the 21-year-old Naples, Fla., native's follow-up route to a swim from Tarifa, Spain, to Punta Cires, Morocco, in one of the world's busiest shipping channels on May 11.

Kramer completed the crossing in 4 hours, 28 minutes. At its narrowest point, the swim is 14.3 kilometers (8.9 miles). Because of currents and wind, she swam 17 kilometers (10.56 miles or 9.18 nautical miles). She said she had figured on 20 kilometers, and her crossing was the fastest by a woman since 16-year-old Sarah Marie Clifford of Ireland did it in July 2010.

"I had to change course a couple of times because of the cargo ships," Kramer said. "Those things are so monstrous."

The Asociacion de Cruce a Nado del Estrecho de Gibraltar (ACNEG, or Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association) haws verified that Kramer is the youngest U.S. woman to finish the crossing - which she made in her Marshall team swim cap, and without wearing a wetsuit.

She is only the 18th US woman to complete the one-way swim.

"I don't think there's any special recognition but there shouldn't be," said Kramer, who swims sprints for the Herd. "That title is cool, but it wasn't the goal!"

Her coach at Marshall, Bill Tramel, wasn't surprised Kramer took on the challenge and succeeded.

"It's an impressive accomplishment," Tramel said after the feat. "Just tremendous ... but anyone who knows Katie understands that's how she is. She's always ready for a challenge and an adventure."

Kramer said her longest training swim came while she was home in Naples over spring break - about 15 miles, in six hours. She also did some distance training with Tramel before leaving Marshall during exam week.

The Conference USA All-Academic selection was in Spain for her swim attempt and missed MU Graduation on May 10. She got her undergraduate degree in economics in three years, after arriving at Marshall with 47 credits from Advanced Placement hours in high school.

"There's no doubt that athletics (especially swimming) build the drive to set goals and work hard to achieve them," Kramer said when asked how the discipline of competing on a collegiate athletic team translates into a challenge like Gibraltar. "Marshall Swimming is very goal-oriented as individuals and as a team. In April, we set five big program goals to achieve at certain points through next March. "Swimming is an honest sport where you're always competing against your own personal bests and your performance will show how hard you've trained. If you ask anyone on my team, they'll probably tell you that Bill's favorite word is `discipline.'

"That's in and out of the pool, and it ultimately translates into a mindset and lifestyle where we are looking for those challenges."

Kramer finished her crossing at 1 p.m. in Spain (7 a.m. EDT) on that Sunday. It was Mother's Day, and her mom and dad - Susan and Bill Kramer (he's been the Naples High football coach since 1998) - were in accompanying support boats as Kramer made the crossing with 36-year-old Ion Lazarenco of Moldova. He had been patiently waiting for weather to clear the previous week, said Kramer, whose scheduled "crossing window" was May 9-16.

So, how anxious, excited or nervous was Kramer about the Gibraltar-sized challenge?

"If I had any anxiety, it was over the fact that I might not get to even attempt because of weather," Kramer said. "I was actually surprised that I never got nervous! Leading up to Spain, I thought I'd get nervous when I actually saw the Strait.

"Then once we were there, I thought I'd be nervous the night before or morning of the swim. But I honestly just wanted to get in the water. I'd waited so long for that day (since an October 2012 application) and just wanted to swim. So it was definitely exciting and surreal throughout the whole thing.

"I think I knew that so many people had been praying and had peace that whatever way it worked out, I was as prepared as I could be and God had a plan."

"My strongest emotion was definitely just gratitude. For 13 days, the weather had been too crazy for an attempt, and two days after I swam, the entire port of Tarifa was closed for several days. The Levante winds were unbelievable.

"But on the single day I swam, the weather was so much milder. So I was thankful for the weather, for my family making the goal a reality, for everyone in Huntington and Naples for being so supportive, and just for the opportunity after a bad surgery!"

A bike-riding Kramer was seriously injured in Naples exactly one year ago (May 26, 2013) when was hit by a car. She was limited in her early Herd team training for 2013-14, and she viewed the Gibraltar crossing as another step in her comeback - as well as a fundraising effort for the Naples YMCA, which suffered significant damage when struck by lightning last summer.

"I was fortunate," Kramer said when asked about the conditions and water for her swim. "The conditions were about as good as one could hope for and such an answer to prayer.  The water was 16-17 degrees Celsius (60-63 Fahrenheit), with pretty mild winds.  The current was mild but against us at the beginning, virtually negligible in the middle of the Strait, and a force against us for about 2 kilometers at the end. Fog can be a problem and actually started creeping in during our swim, but stayed on the Atlantic (Ocean) side and didn't affect us too much. 

"The water was absolutely beautiful. The Strait is about 1 kilometer deep in the middle and quite clear, so we just saw this deep blue color. There were lots of little fish on either side of the Strait, a few little crabs in the middle, and jelly fish and squid on the African side. I actually thought the underwater landscape in Morocco looked like a scene from The Little Mermaid!

 "I had one day to train in the open water off of the beach, and on that day went without the suit and felt cold, but not too cold. I'm so much more used to swimming without the wetsuit and felt comfortable without it. Plus, when swims are documented, there are two separate lists -- one with and one without wetsuits.

"Go big or go home, right?"

Kramer's attempt was to be solo, but after she learned how long the Moldovan had waited to become the first from his nation (located between Ukraine and Romania), they agreed to swim the Strait together. Lazarenco reached the African coast 13 minutes after Kramer touched land.

"I was planning on swimming alone, but my new friend Ion Lazarenco had been waiting in Tarifa to swim for 13 days and the weather had been too severe for an attempt," Kramer said. "The poor guy had been down to the port three separate times, prepared to swim, when it got called off at the last minute. So Rafael (Gutierrez Mesa, president of the association) told me he thought we were similar speeds and asked if it was okay if we swam together.

"We shared the guide boat and each had our own support boats. We were told to not separate more than 100 yards, and I actually had to stop a few times when it happened during the swim. But I'm really glad we got to share the experience and we'll be keeping in contact.

"Ion is the first Moldovan to complete the cross and is currently living in Ireland where he "ice swims," training outside for 10 months a year. He's also attempting the English Channel in the fall."

With or without Lazarenco, Kramer wouldn't have been out there without plenty of support anyway, she said.

"My dad was in my support boat and gave me food and drinks, and my mom and aunt (Sharon Easky) were in the guide boat," Kramer said. "My mom didn't actually get to see me touch Africa because the guide boat was back with Ion. But the first thing I yelled when I saw her after I finished was, `Happy Mother's Day!'

"My parents' support was unreal since the day a year and a half ago when I first texted them out of nowhere (concussed, too, from an accident at a Herd practice) that I wanted to do the swim. It was so special to have them there for the experience.

"I owe a huge thanks to my sisters Courtney and Kelly for watching our 4 year-old sister Cassie for 10 days while the rest of us were out of the country! And my dad came during his spring football practice ... I don't even think he missed practices when his kids were born!"

Kramer said that upon her return home to Florida, she will pen thank-you notes for those who backed her swim with donations to the Naples YMCA. The total is "several thousand dollars" to this point, she said.

Then, it's back to Huntington, where Kramer will have another first - as the first Marshall student to pursue a master's while as a Yeager Scholar.

"I wasn't planning on graduating early and actually just found out during the fall semester," Kramer said. "I was lucky to have so many AP courses offered in high school. Marshall accepted those credits and between those and Yeager seminars, I was able to knock out a bunch of undergrad courses.

"Dr. (Nicki) LoCascio (associate dean of the MU Honors College) was so helpful in figuring out a way for me to remain at Marshall for another year, while taking meaningful courses and still graduating as a Yeager.

"So, I've pretty much just been given these amazing opportunities and just tried to take advantage of them."