Paul Asmuth swam the 22.5 miles around Absecon Island 12 times during a legendary career that included a record eight victories.
From his first trip in 1980 to his last in 1992 — there was no Around the Island Swim in 1986 — he could always count on seeing a pair of fans cheering him on from the same, remote section of the course in the back bays.
“Mile after mile nothing but marsh grass, mud, heat and funky odors,” Asmuth wrote of his inaugural Around the Island Swim in his terrific new book, “Marathon Swimming The Sport of the Soul.”
“Then out of nowhere, two fans with a big sign cheering me on. Where did they come from? There were no homes nearby.”
At Every Around the Island race thereafter, they always were there, providing support and encouragement. They usually held a handmade sign that read “Go Paul Asmuth,” which they also used to swat away the seagull-sized greenheads that like to snack on exposed skin in the summer.
The mere presence of those two fans helped him during some particularly grueling trips.
The 1990 race was extremely difficult due to the currents. I was among the media members and spectators who stood on the Longport jetty while Asmuth, Rob Schmidt and others crawled through the inlet in knee-high water, their fingers digging in the sand. When the swimmers reached the back bay, the two fans were there again.
After that race, which took nearly 10 hours, Asmuth posed for a photo with the two fans outside the Flying Cloud Cafe. It appears on page 171 of the book with the caption: “Their encouraging cheers and signs helped me more than they will ever know. Bless you!”
Now they know.
It was Atlantic City native Ron Jordan and his wife, Yvonne.
Anyone who knows Ron shouldn’t be surprised. From the time he was a young boy, Ron has been a huge sports fan. He remembers being at the old Inlet Baseball Field in 1946 when Austin Johnson won the unofficial Atlantic City heavyweight boxing championship with a sixth-round knockout over Bobby Jones. He was in the stands when Hall of Fame baseball player Monte Irvin hit a grand slam during an exhibition game against the Inlet Athletic and Social Club team.
Jordan, 84, just finished his 52nd season as a Philadelphia Eagles season-ticket holder and hasn’t missed a game since 1971.
So it’s little wonder he was intrigued enough to watch the Around the Island Swim.
“Yvonne just said out of the blue one day, ‘Why don’t we go watch the Around the Island Swim?’” Ron said with a laugh. “We live in the lagoon section of Venice Park, so we only had to walk down to the end of the street. We saw Paul win that first race in 1980 and always showed up to cheer for him. Neither one of us know how to swim, but it used to be one of our favorite events.”
When I joined The Press’ sports staff in 1986, one of my annual assignments was to cover the race, which at the time was extremely popular among locals. Fans would line the beaches to watch the ocean leg, while those who lived on the back bays would hold dock parties while cheering on the legends of marathon swimming such as Asmuth, who grew up in Florida and lives in California; Argentina’s Claudio Plit, Dutch standout Monique Wildschut and Australian Shelly Taylor-Smith, who in 1991 became the first woman to win the race.
The race hasn’t been held since 2006, but two organizations are attempting to revive it. Green Whales Inc. announced this month it plans to hold the race July 14. It will be held in honor of the late Jim Whelan, the former Atlantic City lifeguard, teacher and politican who made a solo trek around the island in 1978.
Whelan, who died in 2017, also was a coach for Egg Harbor Township’s Samantha Chabotar Elko when she was the top women’s finisher in 1996. Elko has announced plans for a solo crossing on Aug. 18 in hopes of making it a full-field event for USA Swimming in 2020.
No matter when it’s held or who sponsors it, you can expect Ron and Yvonne Jordan to be there.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.