Drenching rains may have caused the Gowanus Canal to overflow on Wednesday, disgorging its disgusting contents into the streets as a result, but the wet weather didn’t stop a man from Missouri from swimming the 27 miles around Manhattan.
“I think the water is pretty good,” said Henry Biggs, 51, on Wednesday night. “I may come down with a horrible illness tomorrow, so you may want to ask me in a week, but I have no strange new growth on my body.”
Biggs, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, took 8 hours, 32 minutes, and 14 seconds to swim the distance, leading a small fleet that included a supplies boat, a kayak, and a race director with NYC Swim.
Biggs used the opportunity — he had to apply with NYC Swim for the chance — to raise money for youth mentoring programs in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Ferguson is an issue that’s very near, very impactful for me,” Biggs said. “I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but if I did this I might be able to help raise money for people who have the answers.” The name of the St. Louis suburb has become synonymous with the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. Weeks of unrest and a civil rights uprising ensued there, in New York, and across the globe.
Biggs says he ended up raising about $106,000 for Ferguson, adding that people can still make donations at canhemakeit.com, the fundraising site he set up for Wednesday’s feat. He says money will go to the United Way and Big Brothers & Big Sisters, which will distribute the cash.
But in order to raise the money, Biggs had to swim all 27 miles. Luckily the water wasn’t as choppy or as sewage-y as he feared: “It turned out to be very calm on the water and the winds were relatively low.” And the dreaded East River? Not bad: The tides were rolling briskly out to sea.
Before the swim, Biggs wrote on his website: “If it rains heavily the day before, they release the sewers; that will definitely give me pause…I am praying hard for good weather.” Presumably poo-free, Biggs finished under overcast skies.
Biggs says he swam the English Channel (officially 21 miles but really about 30 due to tides that push swimmers around) about 25 years ago. With Wednesday’s NYC swim now finished, he’s completed two-thirds of the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming,” which also includes the 20-mile swim from Los Angeles to Catalina Island.
Biggs says he spent the weeks leading up to Wednesday swimming at Brighton Beach, which followed months in a pool in St. Louis. After more than a month living with his parents in Manhattan, Biggs is traveling back to St. Louis today.
“I’ve seen many things. I’ve enjoyed New York enormously,” he says. “I want to say hello to my kids again.”
Here’s the map of his route:
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 16, 2015