Local swimmers plan to cross the Columbia

Annual Hood River event is set for Labor Day

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Individuals who intend to participate in the “Roy Webster Columbia River Cross-Channel Swim” are reminded in the registration materials that the event is not a race.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to swim approximately 1.1 miles across the Columbia without any threat of an oncoming barge or other river traffic. The canal is temporarily closed on Labor Day for the early morning event.

Swimmers are asked to arrive by 5:45 a.m., at the Hood River Visitor Center. The swimming begins after participants jump from a sternwheeler.

Lisa Wourms, of Camas, plans to participate in the event for a second time.

Last year, she swam with a friend who had previously participated.

“It was just gorgeous,” Wourms said. “It was a foggy morning. By the time we jumped off the ship, there was a huge rainbow. You had to float on your back and enjoy the scenery.

“It was exciting and different,” she added. “I was glad to experience it.”

There are safety measures in place for the more than 400 swimmers.

“There are people on kayaks and people on surfboards and boats lining the route in case you get off track,” Wourms said “The Coast Guard is rescuing people.”

Wourms, 41, is a triathlete who trains at Lacamas Swim and Sport, in Camas, along with others known as the “Headhunters” who enjoy swimming, bicycling and running.

They include Anita Burkard, 46, of Camas.

She has participated twice in the cross-channel swim.

“I love having a group of friends with whom to swim,” Burkard said. “The cross channel swim is a great swim because of the scenery and the river.

The best parts are jumping off the sternwheeler and the scenery,” she added. “The worst part is waiting for the fun to start.”

John Shoemaker, 52, has been going to Lacamas Swim and Sport since he and his family moved to Camas in 1996.

He was inspired to participate in the cross-channel swim for the first time this year by Wourms and his wife Suzi.

“I have thought about doing this in the past,” Shoemaker said. “There is Lisa’s energy and excitement about having done it, and my wife telling me that ‘you have always talked about doing this swim. Sign up.'”

The Shoemakers competed along with other Headhunters in “Ironman Florida” four years ago.

“It seems like this group is always looking for things different, challenging and fun to do,” John Shoemaker said.

Lori Saunders, 35, of Washougal, plans to participate for the first time in the cross-channel event.

She wants to conquer her fear of swimming in the Columbia River – “especially if it is choppy.”

“Jumping 8 feet off the sternwheeler sounds a little scary, and trying to cross the channel in rough water sounds hard,” Saunders said. “But playing and swimming in the water with a large group of people sounds like a lot of fun.”

She learned how to swim freestyle less than a year ago and now competes in triathlons.

Karen O’Quinn, 46, of Washougal, will participate in the Wisconsin Ironman, scheduled for Sept. 12.

She said the cross-channel swim in Hood River will be good training for the Ironman.

“I’ve always wanted to do the [cross-channel] event, and I’ve never done it before,” O’Quinn said. “The best part will be swimming with a group of friends, and the worst part will be the cold water.

“I enjoy the relaxation of swimming,” she added. “You can just swim and let your mind think of other things.”

Organizers of the cross-channel event recommend that individuals be intermediate or better swimmers, in order to participate. The water temperature on race mornings averages 68 degrees, according to Kerry Cobb, with the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce.

The entry fee through Tuesday, Aug. 31, is $60. After that, it is $70. Group discounts are available. Registration includes a T-shirt and swim cap.

For more information or to register, call (800) 366-3530 or visit