The Story Behind


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First the Allegheny, next the Atlantic for Katie Spotz ’08


Michael Phelps wasn’t the only swimmer to make a big splash this past summer. Recent Warren Wilson graduate Katie Spotz became the first person to swim the length of the Allegheny River, as a fundraiser for Blue Planet Run Foundation. The foundation provides poor communities access to clean drinking water.

Katie, of course, was in the water a bit longer than Phelps was on his way to all those Olympic gold medals. After all, the Allegheny flows 352 miles from its source in north central Pennsylvania to its mouth in Pittsburgh. Katie traveled the first 27 miles on land, as she and safety kayaker James Hendershott had to hike that far before the river ran deep enough to swim and paddle.

How does one swim so far? Short answer: by swimming 12 to 15 miles per day for nearly a month. Katie averaged about eight hours in the water each day before finishing her swim Aug. 21 at Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River.

Not surprisingly, Katie’s journey attracted all sorts of coverage from the national news media, including ESPN, ABC, USA Today and the Associated Press. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about her exploits can be retrieved at

Katie, who has run marathons and bicycled across the United States, has an even bigger adventure planned in 2009, remarkably enough. In another fundraiser for Blue Planet, she plans to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean on a voyage that will take up to 100 days depending on prevailing winds and currents. And to think that she began rowing just in her senior year at Warren Wilson. “Attending a school with such driven and talented students has inspired me to challenge myself and do my small part to help others,” she says.

If Katie completes the journey from Senegal to French Guiana - 2,500 miles from West Africa to South America - she would become the youngest person, at age 22, to accomplish the feat. Don’t bet against her.

Row for Water