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Swimmer completes 325-mile swim of Allegheny

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By Dan Nephin
Friday, August 22, 2008

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An Ohio woman completed her 325-mile swim of the Allegheny River shortly before noon Thursday, a month after beginning her journey.

Perhaps the end came too soon.

"I love swimming. I could keep going," said Katie Spotz, 21, a couple minutes after emerging from the river at the base of the fountain at Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio.

Her friend James Hendershott, 20, of Covington, Ga., paddled alongside her in a kayak filled with their gear.

"I've had a blast, I wasn't afraid or anything. I'm so glad I was able to embark on this journey," said Spotz, of Mentor, near Cleveland.

Spotz swam to raise money and awareness for the Blue Planet Run Foundation, a nonprofit whose goal is to bring clean drinking water to the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who lack it.

The swim was "just another way to help them out and just another way for me to follow my passions," said Spotz, who also plans to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, some 2,500 miles from West Africa to South America, in December for Blue Planet. Spotz has also taken part in a cross-country bike ride and an endurance walk in Australia.

Not that such antics please her mother.

"Each of these adventures, I give her a hard time," said Mary Spotz, who traveled to Pittsburgh with her husband, Dan, to see the last leg of daughter's journey.

"I worry about her. But Katie would rather live life and do whatever she can than live in fear," her mother said. "She always pushes herself to the limit."

Katie Spotz said she wanted a river that was about 300 miles long, clean and relatively close to home.

"The Allegheny fit that and it's been really beautiful, so we've been really lucky with that," she said.

Spotz said there were no major problems. The first day, a herd of cows followed them for a time. And they lost the kayak for a while. They also got separated for a couple hours on land in a lightning storm.

They said they began July 22 at the source of the Allegheny, which Spotz said was a spring in a farm field near the small north-central Pennsylvania town of Raymond. It was so shallow that they had to walk two days before the water became deep enough to swim, she said.

Spotz said she wore in a wet suit and used flippers, swimming for about six to eight hours a day. On her longest day, she said, she swam about 22 miles. On her last day, she swam about a mile. They mostly camped in a tent, but she spent the last night at a friend's house.

Though she swam with the river's current, she faced headwinds. Boat wakes, too, presented a challenge.

Growing up, Spotz said she wasn't particularly athletic. She swam one year in high school, but said she wasn't very good.

"I wouldn't really consider myself to be particularly athletic right now," she said. "It's just a mental challenge."

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