Extreme North Dakota Racing: The End Wet 27 mile swim


“North Dakota? What? Are there people there? Doesn’t it snow year round? That’s where we’re going this summer?” I said to my husband as he came home and announced that he had booked a flight for us to Grand Forks for a race on July 13.

A year ago, my husband Rob decided that he wanted to attempt a channel swim from the Channel Islands off the coast of California to Oxnard, about a 21 mile open ocean swim. When he found out that the entry fee was $1000 and that you need a support boat to accompany you (also very expensive), he began looking for alternative endurance swimming events. An ad popped up for End Racing and an event called the The End Wet, a 27 mile endurance swim on The Red River in North Dakota.

For me, personally, I would have traveled to Bangledesh before seeing him swim in the open ocean. He is most comfortable out there, but I had a vision of him being eaten by a shark, or dying of hypothermia. I was secretly pretty nervous about it, so although the idea of visiting such a remote place sounded, um, well, boring, I went along with it because I was confident that there were no sharks in the Dakotas.

July came up on us fast and before we knew it, we were flying to Grand Forks, North Dakota. We boarded our little prop plane bound for the far north. As we took our seats, my husband nudged me and said, “hey, see that old guy sitting in front of us?He’s the Big River Man.” “The Big River what?” I replied. “He swam the entire length of the Mississippi, Yangtze, Danube and Amazon Rivers… they made a documentary that won a Sundance Award in 2009” Rob said. “Whoa! Now that is impressive, but Rob, I said, Isn’t he, well, kinda of old, and, not to be mean but… heavy to be, not just endurance swimming, but swimming 50-60 miles every day for two months straight?” “That’s what the story is about, just an average, or not so average guy doing something extraordinary. Here is the trailer to his film–>

The next morning we woke up and made our way down to the starting line at the river banks where the swimmers did a two mile shake out swim and practiced getting out of the water at mile 2, because of a section of rapids that are too dangerous to swim. We met the race director, Andy, a fascinating guy who has an incredible story of how he began coordinating his adventure and extreme race series – definitely check out his website if you are interested in doing something more than your average race.

Some of the End Wet endurance swimmers.
Some of the End Wet endurance swimmers.

That night there was a dinner for the 30 swimmers and support kayakers (each swimmer has to have someone beside them helping them along the course). After a quick briefing, we headed over to the local theatre to see a viewing of Big River Man, staring Martin Strel, the man we sat near on the plane ride to Grand Forks.

Rob With Martin Strel
Rob With Martin Strel

As I fell asleep that night, my heart was filled with excitement and nerves. I was so grateful to be supporting my husband, instead of the other way around. He has been there for me countless times as I crossed finish line, tomorrow was his day to shine and I was so happy for him.

The next morning the swimmers lined up at 8am and started their journey that would last for the next several hours. The most inspirational part of this race was that it was filled with normal people. Some athletes looked as though they would not be able to swim 1 mile let alone 27. It reminded me of myself, just an average girl taking chances and going big. It convinced me that all things are possible if you put your mind to it. Never say “I can’t” if you dream big, work hard and take chances, anything is possible.


I saw the swimmers off and jogged along the river path about 2 miles up where they were doing the transition out of the water and meeting up with their support kayakers. My father-in-law, Jim, flew out from Maryland to support my husband. I am so touched by the way my husband’s family loves and supports him, they would drop anything to be there for him. It always brings a tear of joy to my eye to observe my in-laws dedication to their family.

Rob jumping in at mile 2, the swimmers left the water to avoid a dangerous rapid. Jim waiting for him in the Kayak.
Rob jumping in at mile 2, the swimmers had to exit the water to avoid a dangerous rapid. Jim waiting for him in the Kayak.

After seeing Rob in at the 2 mile, I drove ahead to mile 14 (a little more than half way) to the private home of Wayne Devine. He lives up to his name, what a divine gesture to open his front yard to the spectators.

Rob and my father-in-law breezed by mile 14, looking strong and ready for the next half. Now the race begins, anything can happen after 14 miles. As I left Mr. Devine’s home and drove to the finish line another 13 miles down the road, I said a prayer that my husband find the mental strength to overcome any difficult spots that may come.

Rob and Jim at Mile 14.
Rob and Jim at Mile 14.

Before I knew it, the relay teams and first finishers were coming in, and not long after that, there was my father-in-law’s yellow kayak and my husband beside him. A wave of emotion and excitement swept over me as I saw my husband take those final strokes into the finish. He had just swam 27 miles in 7 hours and 35 minutes. He had worked so hard for this, and no person could understand what that moment meant greater than me. Not only had he achieved something huge, he had done it FAST! He came in 6th overall and was the 3rd male finisher. I am so proud of him, and so grateful that I was able to come along and be on the other end of racing. It was my turn to be the helper, cheerleader, sherpa, and support crew — and it was amazing! Thank you to my Mom for watching our children and making it possible for us.

Rob finishes 27 miles in 7:35:14
Rob finishes 27 miles in 7:35:14

Don’t ever let someone, including yourself say you can’t do something, if you have a dream, go after it! The hardest part is the first step, or in Rob’s case the first stroke. So proud of my husband! Congratulations Rob! I love you!

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  1. says

    LOVE IT! After seeing your pics on IG over the weekend I was intrigued especially since I’m an upper midwest girl. (You betcha!) That is one big feat to accomplish. I could never imagine swimming that far. Even a 1/2 mile seems like a marathon to me. Congrats Rob!

  2. says

    Wow! I am SO impressed! I know a few people who have done long endurance swims, but this one takes the cake. Tell him congrats on his amazing effort and accomplishment! And now I want to see that film.

  3. says

    Things I love about this:
    1.) The longest swim race I’d ever heard of was a 10k open water swim in the last Olympics, which dwarfs even the Iron Man (a mere 3.86km), so 27 miles is just staggering to me.
    2.) I have a bit of a shark phobia too!
    3.) Rob’s Green Lantern t-shirt… The Green Lantern’s Power Ring is controlled by his willpower; willpower is a big deal to endurance athletes. I’m going to have to stop by H20Samurai more often…

  4. says

    WOW!! That is incredible! I didn’t even know there were endurance swims that far… I am in awe. So glad you ended up having a good time after all in little ND. :) And awesome that you ran into Marcia in the airport, too!!

  5. says

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but I had no idea something like this existed. I guess it’s true that there’s something out there for everyone. I think it’s also true that some of the best people in their sport aren’t always what you expect, especially physically. That alone is pretty awesome to me because I think to myself, “This person is out there doing what they love and totally killing the stereotype.” High five to your husband!

  6. Kelli from Simi says

    Way to go, Rob! What a great story, a fantastic accomplishment! Not surprised to hear about the hospitality of the locals; we did the Fargo marathon (Mallory) and half marathon (me) – the most amazing, friendly spectators I’ve ever met. Thanks for posting this inspiring story – love it!

  7. says

    27 mile swim!??! holy moly. honestly when i first saw your instagram picture of this, i thought you made a typo. i thought swimming 27 miles was not possible! totally impressed! go hubs!

  8. says

    Apparently I shouldn’t complain about the fact that I swam 1.2 miles for a race this past weekend. HOLY COW. that is insane but amazing! Talk about a power couple the two of you are!

  9. says

    WOW! That is awesome! Your entire family is just incredible! I loved watching your pictures last weekend of the event. So inspiring!

  10. says

    Great post! I still can’t believe he swam that far! 2 mile shakeout swim? What? The 2.4 mile swim is the reason I don’t want to do an Ironman…But what an amazing accomplishment. I know you are so proud of him and we are, too! Also glad he swam in a muddy river instead of a scary shark-infested ocean!

  11. says

    Fantastic! Congrats to Rob on an awesome accomplishment. 27 miles is mind-blowing to me. So glad to have met you and also glad you made it to your final destination!

  12. says

    Thank you everyone for the kind words! The swim was, indeed, immense but incredibly satisfying at the end. To be honest, I’m still processing it all — the culmination of a year of thought and training. 27 miles was a pretty long way — only one other swim race (Manhattan Island) is that long — even the channel swims are only 21 miles. It was tough — I was grateful we had a current helping for at least part of the way.

    This swim could never have been accomplished without Lisa’s generous support – many mornings and weekends, especially towards the end, were devoted entirely to supporting my swimming. To see her excitement and smile when I came out of the water made everything that much sweeter. I love you, babe!

    It was also pretty nice to have my Dad with me in the kayak. During such an isolating event (visibility in the river was absolute zero), to be able to look up and see another human being was a good thing after a while.

    I am always surprised by the reactions of the marathoners to these long swims — I could never run as far as you all can. The very idea of running for even a half marathon prevents me from doing triathlons! Swimming is something I’m much more comfortable with. And the river was nice — a few rough patches, but much better than the open ocean. Maybe we’ll try it again some time — though, perhaps slightly less distance.

    Finally, I agree with Lisa 100% about the assessment of Andy and the END racing series. It was a truly great event — well run, not too big, and in a very supportive town. If you’re looking for new and interesting races, I’d check them out.

  13. says

    Wow. this is just incredible! I can’t imagine swimming that far for that long. Well done Rob! And Lisa, loved reading about how proud you were of him as he came out of the water! Such a powerful moment! Glad you got to share it: together:)