How an ocean-loving New Bedford mom trained for her first Buzzards Bay Swim

Rosie Byrnes loves the ocean. “Like [an] ‘I believe in mermaids’ love the ocean,” she says. Even now, she dreads leaving the salty water each September – a forced goodbye, at least until warm weather returns the next spring.

swimmers at the Buzzards Bay Swim start line in New Bedford

Rosie Byrnes (right) participated in the Buzzards Bay Swim as part of the team “The Beastie Girls” with friends including Sonya Beausoleil (left) and Lynne Ribeiro (center).

Despite her affinity for the sea, Rosie grew up in the landlocked state of Pennsylvania, where she taught herself to swim in her backyard pool. It wasn’t until she met and married her husband Devin – owner of Destination Soups, a popular eatery in downtown New Bedford – that Rosie truly found her way to the ocean here on Buzzards Bay.

In 2011, a pregnant Rosie attended the Buzzards Bay Swim for the first time, but not as a participant. Her friend Lynne was swimming the 1.2-mile course, and Rosie was there to cheer her on. Two years later, remembering how inspired she felt watching Lynne swim into the finish line at Fort Phoenix, Rosie decided to attempt the crossing herself.

Rosie received lots of encouragement from her fellow teachers at Hastings Middle School in Fairhaven, several of whom also participate in the Swim. However, not everyone who heard about Rosie’s endeavor was as enthusiastic. “When I first told people that I was swimming the Bay, some people said, ‘You’re crazy – I could never do that!’” But their disbelief only fueled her pride.

Because she had never swum competitively, Rosie she knew she had a lot of work to do in the coming months to prepare. She joined the New Bedford YMCA and began to swim once a week, eager to take on the full 44-lap distance that would make her ready for the 1.2-mile Swim course. But after 12 laps at her very first practice, Rosie was exhausted – more like a fish out of water than a mermaid.

She was not easily discouraged. With weekly practice, she was swimming a full mile – 33 laps – with ease after two months. “The repetitive action back and forth allowed my brain the time to decompress while my muscles stretched and rose to the occasion.” By the time June rolled around, Rosie felt like a pro, swimming 44 laps effortlessly.

But swimming in open water was another story. When Rosie first practiced swimming at the beach in the South End of New Bedford, where the Swim course begins, things didn’t quite go according to plan. “I suddenly forgot how to swim altogether! There were waves to contend with, and the water wasn’t crystal clear with a line down the middle.”

Rosie Byrnes swimming across outer New Bedford Harbor at the Buzzards Bay Swim

“When you let go, swimming in the ocean is the most natural, freeing thing in the world,” said Rosie of her experience swimming in the Buzzards Bay Swim.

She encouraged herself to calm down and remember why she wanted to swim in the first place. “When you just let go, swimming in the ocean is the most natural, freeing thing in the world,” she says. With this in mind, Rosie put her head down, finished her first open-water practice swim, and began to look forward to the big day with confidence.

On the day of the Swim, Rosie waded into the water with 300 other participants, welcomed by the calm, salty waves of Buzzards Bay. “It was a magnificent morning, a thousand sparkles on the water. A very good friend of mine looked at me and said, ‘Remember, just keep swimming.’ – and we did. We swam our hearts out and made it to the other side.”

The Buzzards Bay Swim is a Waterkeeper Alliance SPLASH Series event, presented nationally by Toyota. The SPLASH Series engages local citizens in recreational use of our waterways to celebrate access to clean water. Event sponsors also include Amica Insurance, Anderson Insulation, YMCA Southcoast, and Fiber Optic Center.

Category: Events

Swim the Bay, Save the Bay

Buzzards Bay Swim

Celebrate clean water at the Coalition's 27th annual Buzzards Bay Swim on Saturday, June 27, 2020! Join more than 400 others who make a difference to protect clean water in Buzzards Bay. You can swim, volunteer, or cheer on swimmers as they cross outer New Bedford Harbor.

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Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: