Meet Alison LaBonte: Odyssey Open Water Swimmer Profile

Alison LaBonte.JPG

“Swimming is my meditation -- an opportunity to just focus on the senses of the moment.” -- Alison LaBonte

Alison LaBonte enjoys being in the open water so much that she has been on over 50 Odyssey Open Water swims. We interviewed Alison to learn more about why she swims, why she swims with Odyssey Open Water Swimming, and to ask for her best tips for fellow swimmers.

Alison LaBonte had just finished a swim on a stormy and fun Odyssey Swim with lead kayaker Taylor and others when she submitted her responses to our questions. “It is great that Odyssey allows us to have these wonderful experiences,” Alison said.

In addition to enjoying a variety of conditions and sensations from each swim, Alison is driven to swim to “escape from the regular day’s thoughts cluttering my mind.”

Out of the Water

“I work at the California Public Utilities Commission, focusing on bringing energy savings to all residential customers,” says Alison. When not working or joining Odyssey on a swim, she enjoys water polo, gardening, and “playing with food.”

Swimming with Odyssey

IMG_2603 (2).JPG

When asked why she swims with Odyssey, Alison says that Odyssey is close and reliable. “Rain or shine, blowing like crazy or dead flat, freezing or extreme heat... I can always count on the swim to go on.” Odyssey hosts weekly Berkeley swims on Sundays throughout the entire year. There are also Berkeley swims on Tuesday in the spring and summer and a wide range of special events, including the Bridge to Bridge swim, Alcatraz swim, TransBay swim, Splash & Dash race, and more

Alison also appreciates the safety support she receives when swimming with Odyssey. “Warren runs a well organized and structured organization that is safe and suits all swim skill levels,” says Alison. “The one-mile buoy course set up allows stronger swimmers to swim at their pace and for longer distances, as suits them,” she continues. 

Routine & Tips

Every athlete has a different pre and post-event routine. For Alison, she sleeps in on Sundays until 9AM before a 10AM swim. “I have coffee and a quick bite, or just a glass of water before I bike the mile from home to the marina,” says Alison. “I’m typically the last person to arrive and suit up (or not, I skip the wetsuit when it is above 60 degrees),” continues Alison. When the swim is over, she changes immediately, and rides back home “with frozen feet to take a warm shower as quickly as possible.”

Alison has several tips for fellow swimmers based on her experience participating in dozens of open water swims. Alison says:

●     “Keep coming. Every swim is different. If you didn’t totally enjoy your first outing, you could have a better experience on the next. After a while your swims may just vary between good and euphoric.”

●     “Don’t plan to ever have visibility more than a foot or two in the bay.”

●     “Do your shoulder strengthening exercises. Stay ahead of the classic swimmers’ shoulder rotator cuff issues!”

Alison’s Most Memorable Swim

Alison’s most memorable swim was last year’s TransBay swim.

“When I learned about the swim, I signed up almost immediately. I had just turned 40, and was loving swimming in Odyssey’s bay events after my first bridge to bridge the prior year. Some chronic shoulder problems were flaring up about 6-8 weeks in advance of the swim, and I jumped on getting my physician to refer me to a physical therapist to help me.

I was determined. Adding eating during a swim was an interesting new experiment for me in this sport. I arranged for the day of the event to be a family endeavor. My husband Bob was my kayaker, and my dad Gary was shore side to cheer me on and text updates to the rest of the family real time. He saw me pass the halfway point, Treasure Island, and rooted me into the finish. It was fun that swimming, a solo sport, was like a family event for the first time (since my childhood days of dad cheering at each breath of breaststroke races).

By the end, my shoulders hurt and I was afraid to allow someone to pull me up by the arms out of the water (the ladder wasn’t installed at the pier that day). I pushed out on my own and celebrated having finished with no significant pain. I was surprised to learn that four and a half hours had passed in what felt like only three hours. My longest ever swims prior had been two and a quarter hours. The whole time was fresh, exciting, and I only got hungry, not bored.”

Looking ahead at what she still wants to accomplish as an athlete, Alison says, “Someday, perhaps after I retire, I would like to swim the Catalina channel.” Thank you to Alison for joining us on our swims and for sharing with us. Stay up to date with what’s going on at Odyssey by visiting the Odyssey Open Water Blog here.