Clark will be getting in the swim of things down in Key West

When most people visit Key West, they visit Ernest Hemingway's house, catch the wacky sunset celebration at Mallory Square or participate in the infamous Duval Crawl.

But not Kevin Clark.

On June 23, the 58-year-old Mystic resident, will get a chance to see Conch Republic from a different perspective- he will try to swim the 12.5 miles around the island.

Clark, a veteran swimmer and cyclist, is one of the 100 or so entrants in the 36th annual Swim Around Key West which takes the average competitor about six hours to complete. At no time can competitors touch the bottom or hold onto the kayaks that accompany them.

Clark had heard about the race but did not get real interested in it until last year when he agreed to be the kayak escort for Amanda Husslein of Montauk, N.Y. who finished in 6:04. While he sat in the kayak that day, he couldn't help but think "I should be doing this."

So in February he plunked down the $140 entry fee and signed up.

"I seemed like a good idea back then but now with it closing in, I'm thinking that maybe it wasn't such a good idea," he joked when I talked to him this week.

But Clark, who has been swimming at the Mystic Community Center (now YMCA) since it opened in 1983, has been logging lots of time in the pool since signing up for the race.

He's been swimming between 15,000 and 20,000 yards a week with a couple weeks of 23,000 yards.

His longest pool swim, which he's done twice, has been 10,500 yards or six miles. It took him more than three hours.

"I've always wondered how far I could swim and at 58, I think it's time to start finding out," he said when I asked him why he wanted to do the race. "Ten years from now I won't be able to do it."

Clark said the attractive things about the swim is that it is in warm water, he can see the bottom and he does not have to wear a wetsuit.

"What I'm looking forward to most of all, though, is not counting laps," he said.

In addition to a t-shirt, only those who finish in less than eight hours get a small silver dolphin medallion denoting an official finisher.

"There's no way I'm not finishing," he said. "I have to do this. I've been running my mouth about it all winter."

Accompanying Clark in a kayak and tossing him gels, bananas and energy bars during the race, will be Kate Wilbur of Ledyard, a former YMCA lifeguard who is a nurse at Backus Hospital.

So what's next for Clark after he crosses the finish line in Key West.

"I aspire to do it again after I turn 60. Just to say, been there, done that, when I turned 60,' " he said.

On the schedule: The annual Tour de Noank 5K road race will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Esker Point Beach in Groton. Applications are available at www.snerro.com.

Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist

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