As the fog lifted early Sunday morning, swimmers gathered at Cowell's Beach for the 2016 Cruise-Cruz.
Corvin Bazgan, 42, who is legally blind and hearing impaired as a result of Ushers SyndromeType III, an incurable degenerative retina and auditory disorder, was among the athletes. He sported an official race number clearly marked "Deaf-Blind" and was tethered to his friend Julia Blanton, a Scotts Valley resident and the co-chair of Scotts Valley Sports Complex, body-marked as "Guide."
"This is my way of putting myself out there and showing what I can do. I feel alive and enjoy experiencing the world with inspirational people," said Bazgan.
This would be the second year the duo participated in the Cruise-Cruz swimming event despite Bazgan's sensory limits and the natural obstacle of the ocean.
The athletes first met in 2007 at a Master's swim class and ran their first half-marathon together in 2011.
Bazgan reflected, "I had been swimming for about two years and was looking to triathlons to challenge myself further. I was captivated by Julia's athleticism and fitness. She knew what she was doing. I resolved to find ways for her to be part of my pursuit of an active lifestyle." The nature of his progressive deafblindness dictated Blanton would have the biggest impact by becoming his guide. Through trial and error, they refined their tethering system for both land and sea events.
On Sunday before the race start, Cruise-Cruz Race Director Scott Patterson reminded swimmers of the inherent hazards of the course including fishing lines, sea lions near the Santa Cruz Wharf, hypothermia in the chilly waters of 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and the two swimmers with a one-yard bungee connected to each other.
The dynamic duo swims in synchronicity with the aid of a bungee looped around their waists and a second loop around their thighs. As Bazgan dove in the water, he was without his hearing aids and sight. Blanton's "flash of light" swim stroke passing by her bathing cap guided their synchronized swim.
"Sunday's course consisted of one hard right and three less-angular left turns,” Blanton explained. “Our strategy was that I would tap him to signal we were at the next buoy. We maintained a coordinated effort at a steady pace with only a few minor collisions. After the fourth buoy, we accelerated for the final leg."
Together they finished the swim in 1 hour and 11 minutes, a minute earlier than last year.
It was their post-swim tandem run along West Cliff that caught the eyes of onlookers who could not help but smile and nod – touched by something exceptional as they watched two friends absorb their accomplishment with a warming jog on West Cliff.
To follow the athletic duo, their next race is the Scotts Valley Running Festival, Sunday September 18: http://svrunningfestival.com/.