KAWAIHAE — There will be no Big Island roughwater swim Triple Crown winner this year.
Leahi Camacho, the Big Island’s undisputed queen of roughwater swims and reigning triple-crown winner, could not battle back from an extended fight with mononucleosis that kept her away from the water for nearly three weeks.
Camacho’s absence at the front of the pack opened the door for Minnesota’s Kylie Burgess to take home the title at the 36th annual Hapuna Roughwater Swim on Saturday morning.
Burgess finished first overall with a time of 20 minutes and 45.67 seconds. She was followed closely by University of Idaho-bound, Kealakehe graduate Cara Jernigan, who reached the shore in 20:58.24. Nathaniel Goodale rounded out the overall-finisher podium with a time of 20:59.60.
“I was hoping to go for the Triple Crown, but it was just not in the cards,” Camacho said. “Being out really affected me. I did not feel good during warmups. It threw a wrench into the plans, but it happens.”
Camacho finished sixth overall, with a time of 21:03.28. She had won the race the past two years.
Burgess, a recent graduate from Stillwater, Minn. on summer vacation, came into the race with only one other open water swim on her resume, but is a specialist in long-distance races.
“I definitely did not know if I would come in first, but I was hoping for it,” said Burgess, who will be attending Rice University in the fall. “I love open water. I hope to do more in the future.”
Nearly 300 swimmers started the race, more than a handful from out of state.
“This race usually has a lot of people from all over,” Camacho said. “You have to come in with the mindset that there might be someone random who jumps to the head of the pack and surprises people.”
There was not a cloud in the sky above Hapuna, but the wind that has become synonymous with events on the Kohala coast picked up as the swimmers entered the water.
“It’s always a mixed piece here. You never know what you are going to get, but that is what makes roughwater swims so special,” race director Mark Noetzel said. “I wouldn’t say it was worse than in years past, but the conditions were challenging.”
Race founders Mo Mathews and Sean “Peaman” Pagett — the father of many island endurance events — were among the field. The duo have competed in the race a record 32-times.
Peaman finished with a time of 40:12.18, but the 82-year-old Mathews opted for the shore early.
In the Cinco de Mayo Spash — the first race of the Triple Crown series — Camacho edged Jernigan by 30 seconds, but had been on the comeback trail since her health issues prevented her from training.
Camacho is not one for making excuses. Last summer, she became the youngest to complete the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel swim from Molokai to Oahu, battling against big swells and a nearly debilitating Portuguese man o’ war sting.
Camacho has accepted an athletic scholarship to attend Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y. Last season, Wagner won its first Northeast Conference Swimming and Diving Championship. The Seahawks are a NCAA Division I school with an enrollment of 2,400 students. Camacho said the Wagner swim team participates in some open water swims throughout the year.
“It would have been nice for the Triple Crown to be my last hurrah, but we still have one more race,” Camacho said.
The 20th annual King’s Swim is the final leg of the Triple Crown series. It will be held July 5 at Kailua Bay.
Applications are available at Bike Works in Kona. A nonrefundable entry fee of $15 must accompany application. The registration deadline is June 30. Late registration will be held at Kailua Pier from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. race day for $20.
For more information on the King’s Swim, contact Steve Borowski at 334-0083.