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Woman circumnavigates Longboat Key, swims 23.19 miles in under 12 hours

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LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) – A local woman who was the first swimmer to circumnavigate Anna Maria Island has accomplished another massive goal, this time, circumnavigating Longboat Key.

Julie Madison fell in love with Longboat Key after swimming around Lido Key about seven years ago. She said she saw a lot of potential in the location and it had always been her dream to do the swim.

Last December, Madison completed her Anna Maria Island swim of 17 miles in less than eight hours with the support of the AMI (Anna Maria Island) Hog Fish Swim group behind her. The group met to celebrate New Year’s Eve a few days after the swim and Madison said they were very enthusiastic.

“They thought it was just the coolest thing ever. They were so inspired and so motivated by it… and they were like, ‘well, what’s next?’ And I said, ‘Longboat’s gotta be next. Like, it’s only five more miles! So I really want to get that done this year,’” Madison said.

Madison and Hog Fish members began to put together “teams” so she could accomplish the 23.19-mile feat in the most adverse conditions. She needed the support from fellow swimmers to paddle alongside her.

Madison acknowledges she could have waited until the water was warmer and calmer, but she didn’t want to wait too long because she was “antsy” to attempt the swim.

Garry Fenimore, Laura Elliot, Nicola Pearce, John Davis, Michael Friedman, Gregg Meyers, Amanda Girton and Jordan Valenza all supported Madison in the water during her swim.

“So what I did is we came up with a plan where I’d have two kayakers every three hours or so and we’d do shifts around the island,” she said.

Madison and her team, as well as professional photographer Karen Tone to capture the excitement, set out to attempt the swim last Thursday with everything in place, down the timing of switching out kayaks.

“I’d have to say that Shane from Happy Paddler was an absolute God-send. Because without him, he dropped all the kayaks off on time, early, got them ready for us. So that meant that every time I passed that kayak exchange point, my kayakers were already in the water, we were ready to go,” Madison said.

Having those kayaks to make team member switches was extremely important. There was no time for her to wait around in the water, which ranged in temperature from 71 to 74 degrees throughout the day.

“…if I had had to wait at any of those interchanges, that would have gone from a day where I could have done it and did do it, to a day where my body temperature would have dropped. I would have had hypothermia and I would have had to be pulled out,” Madison explained.

She called the swim “brutal,” due in part to the 15 to 20 mph winds.

“What is ideal for swimming is like a super, super smooth – almost looks like a pool, like glass – maybe a few little ripples from the wind is okay,” she said. “Once you see any wave height, it goes from really, really easy to much, much harder very quickly. It doesn’t take a lot of wave chop to make it really hard. Especially if you have a consistent turnover of waves.” 

The waves were churning up the warm surface water with the cold water underneath, dropping water temperature.

“I was really, really good for those first five miles, pretty much after I hit mile six, I had to battle hypothermia from mile six to my finish,” Madison said. “Which meant that my stops, I couldn’t stop for more than 30 to 40 seconds. Because if I stopped for more than 30 to 40 seconds, my body temperatures starts to go down.” 

She said by the time she reached the southern tip of Longboat Key, her teeth were chattering, but she was still going strong. Madison said she still had feeling in her hands in legs, and she said is all that’s really needed.

“Once you start losing the feeling in you fingertips, and I’ve worked through hypothermia up to my elbows and my knees and been able to recover after that, so that was kind of my gauge of ‘well if I can’t feel anything from my elbows down, that’s when it’s time to get out,’” she said.

Madison is trained in difficult conditions, but circumnavigating Longboat Key in rough conditions was still hard work.

“By the time I got done, I was tired. It definitely took a lot out of me. It was so nice to have everyone on the beach waiting for me and to support me and hold me up,” she said. “My husband was able to walk me to my car, because I don’t know if I could have walked to my car.”

Madison said there were many differences in her Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island circumnavigations, in addition to distance. The water was much choppier this time around.

“So when I was doing Anna Maria Island, everything was kind of working with me. I did have a little bit of a fight into the wind, but the current was really helping me anyways, so it wasn’t as bad,” she said. “Whereas this, the waves were so strong that it wasn’t helping me and I had to use a lot more core stability to just be able to just be able to make forward progress and be able to hold everything in line.” 

Though she just completed a difficult swim of over 20 miles 11 hours and 25 minutes, Madison said she’s not slowing down. She’s also not revealing any of her future plans until she’s concurred her goals.

When she’s not attempting her own large swimming goals, Madison trains veterans to train their own service dogs. She runs three swim events throughout the year with her organization, Fresh Start Swim Series, to benefit Forgotten Coast K-9 and the under-privileged community learning to swim.

Fresh Star Swim Series is hosting a run-swim-run 5K or 10K race in Madeira Beach on June 4. In addition to participants, Madison said volunteers for kayakers and registration are welcome, as well as spectators.

Madison encourages those who may be interested in open water swimming to reach out to local groups, like the AMI Hog Fish, in their area. She can also be found on Instagram.

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