Knoxville to Host Open Water Swimming Event | Sports Destination Management

Knoxville to Host Open Water Swimming Event

Aug 29, 2017

The Knoxville Open Water Swimmers (KOWS) and Tennessee Aquatics will host the Bridges to Bluffs Open Water Swim (B2B) on Sunday, September 17, 2017.  This inaugural race is a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) swim in the Tennessee River, through downtown Knoxville, and is the only race of its kind in the country with an “off the boat” race start. 

Allison Ware, Southeastern LMSC Chair commented, “This is going to be a great event in East Tennessee. B2B is perfectly positioned to attract swimmers from a huge geography due to the scenery and accessibility. With a great team organizing, a great course and thorough planning, I really think this is a fantastic opportunity for Knoxville, and easily will be a national caliber event.”

The U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) sanctioned open water event is expecting 100 plus participants including solo swimmers, duo relay teams and pilots (kayakers supporting the swimmers to help guide them during the race).  The race begins at 9 AM from the Star of Knoxville Riverboat, which will be positioned adjacent to the new Suttree Park.  From there swimmers and their pilots will head downstream towards the urban skyline, under the Gay and Henley Street Bridges, past the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium, swim adjacent to the Cherokee Bluffs, and then finally under the Alcoa Highway Bridge in a race towards the finish just off shore of Sequoyah Hills Park.  As participants finish, each will receive a branded race shirt, custom finisher’s award, post-race lunch and race photos, provided in part by race sponsors Pilot Corporation, Mortgage Investors Group, Bike ‘N Tri, Danny Sturdevan Realty Executive Associates and others.  The race will last for a maximum of 4 hours with race officials asking boat traffic in and around downtown that day to please operate at no wake speeds and be extra vigilant of race participants.

The race is expected to draw interest locally, and from around the globe.  To date, local athletes have signed up as well as swimmers from multiple countries, including past Olympians, athletes that have traversed the English Channel between the United Kingdom and France and swimmers who have participated in the Manhattan Island swim off New York City.  Speaking as a Co-Director of the B2B swim, Blaik Ogle said, “I am so pleased with the support for the event already!  I hope this race will be just the start and provide local swimmers, myself included, a yearly event we can look forward to close to home.”  Organizers are hopeful for a successful event and the KOWS hope to make Knoxville a regular host for future open water events, with the possibility of bringing the USMS National Open Water Championships to Knoxville as soon as 2019.

In partnership with Outdoor Knoxville and Legacy Parks, fundraising to support the race is currently underway with a variety of in-kind donations being accepted and sponsorship packages available.  Any proceeds from the race are expected to go towards advancing river and shoreline beautification efforts already underway by Billy Lush Board Shop and KOWS via their four times yearly river clean-ups.  To learn more or donate, email
On the Saturday immediately prior to the race, participants will be treated to a pre-race day buffet dinner cruise on the Star of Knoxville where athletes and pilots will get acquainted and receive a course preview.  Additional meal tickets will be sold beginning September 10th on a first come, first serve basis until the boat is full.

In September of 2016, a small group of original KOWS members participated in an open water “race” in the Tennessee River, with some of the Chattanooga Open Water Swimmers, the COWS.  It was at that point that the seed of an idea for a more formal race was planted.  Co-Director of the B2B swim, Jack McAfee recalled, “We had a really fun time at that swim last fall, and received a lot of positive feedback from swimmers in Chattanooga.  We didn’t want to see it become just one and done.”  The KOWS partnered with Tennessee Aquatics, the elite national swimming program in the area, who absorbed the group, and the KOWS benefited from their insurance coverage.  That action opened the door for USMS sanctioning and allowed for the Knoxville race in September to be added to competitive swimming websites/calendars nationwide. 

KOWS continue to grow in numbers by working in coordination with local Triathlon Club presidents, who host a beginner’s open water session on some Mondays at The Cove, as well as training through Tennessee Aquatics, who provide training opportunities for those interested in competitive swimming.

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