A History Lesson: Seven Sister Marathon Swimmers

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Commonly referred to as the women’s “Ivy League,” the “Seven Sister” colleges: Smith, Radcliffe, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Vassar have a tradition and legacy of greatness. Before the Ivy League colleges went co-ed, they were male-only institutions, with sister Ivy League schools for the women. Fortunately 6 of the 7 sisters still remain today (Harvard combined Radcliffe thus making it co-ed), with 5 of the 7 colleges still being elite all-women’s institutions (Vassar is co-ed).

Of the Seven Sisters, Smith and Wellesley have had students successfully complete the crossing of the English Channel.

Smith College was the first have two swimmers successfully complete the crossing- on August 18th, 1984: Margaret Broenimann ’85, Maura Fitzpatrick ’85, and has had a total of five successful crossings under the direction of Coach Kim Bierwert.

On August 26th, 1990: Maureen Travers (Smith ESS grad student) and on August 5th, 2011: Mackenzie Bradley ‘13 and Emma Riem ’13 completed the crossing, thus carrying on the Smith tradition.

Ika Kovackiova ‘14, a Wellesley swimmer, made a successful crossing on August 19th, 2013. Thus expanding the tradition to other Seven Sister schools.

Emma Riem and Mackenzie Bradley both overlapped on the Smith Swimming and Diving Team with me for two years, where they also served as team captains.

Although Emma was recovering from shoulder surgery during the season, she always led by example. Emma has such incredible intrinsic motivation, drive, and perseverance, which I really admire. In addition, she has some of the best and funniest stories! Emma is the type of person that I can tell anything to at anytime, and she also is incredibly loyal. She has given me lots of guidance regarding my Channel swim, and is so down to earth! I miss her regularly, but know she is doing amazing things in Oregon!

Mackenzie and I got to know each other very well, and very early on, as we were lane-mates, getting through all the distance workouts! From early mornings to late evenings during the school year, we could count on each other to give one another a run for their money in practice! I think Coach Kim enjoyed watching that… As I noted in a previous post, Mackenzie will be my support swimmer for my channel crossing, which I am looking forward to! Mackenzie is the human definition of dedication, and is such an inspiration to me as I move forward in my training.

Ika Kovacikova has been such a great friend to me as I prepare for my crossing. When I first talked to Ika, she was in the same position I am currently in, training to attempt a solo channel crossing. Talking to someone who hadn’t completed a crossing yet, but was planning to, provided me with a lot of insight and simulated the mental conditions I would be facing. Ika was so open and friendly, and being able to watch her GPS (and cheer like crazy) as she swam the channel was incredibly motivational! Ika and I have gotten the pleasure to race multiple times in our mid-distance specialties throughout the past swim season, and I will really miss her cheerful demeanor on the Wellesley pool deck this coming season (she graduated this past spring)! I will be sure to pass down the Seven Sister Marathon Swimmer quilt that she hand made to any other future channel attempters (after I embroider on all the names of successful Seven Sister Channel Swimmers)! Thank you for your wisdom, guidance, and all around awesomeness, dudette!

I am so proud to be a part of and represent a community with such rich tradition and legacy (dating back to the 1800s)! I hope I can continue to build on the foundation of excellence that so many have prepared before me.


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