Aside from an occasional rooster crowing or water lapping along the Merizo Pier, the morning of the Annual Invitational International Cocos Crossing is a quiet one.
The peace is momentarily broken by a prayer sung in Chamorro for the safety of hundreds of swimmers who have convened at the pier and at Coco’s Island for the race. When the final note of the prayer is sung, the pier is quiet again and a small group of swimmers gather at the starting line for the 5-mile race. On Cocos Island, competitors in the 2.5-mile race are doing the same.
While only a handful of swimmers get set for the 5-mile competition, hundreds more swimmers, hailing from Australia, countries throughout Asia, and athletes from Guam’s local swim team, the Manukai Athletic Club, get ready for the 2.5-mile-long contest. The competitors in the 2.5-mile race swim from Cocos Island to Merizo Pier; those in the 5-mile race will swim to the island, then back to the pier again.
With the sound of the starting horn, the race begins and the competitors dive into pristine waters on either side of Cocos Lagoon.
Every year, the Cocos Crossing Invitational attracts visitors from all over the world to the southern village of Merizo to swim the channel or to watch the athletic prowess of the competitors.
The Cocos Crossing swimmers have the advantage of competing in crystal clear water and comfortable temperatures. The route is also protected from heavy surf by the lagoon, but Mother Nature is always full of surprises: swimmers could come face to face with the occasional jellyfish or endure the possibility of choppy conditions.
In spite of gorgeous weather and seemingly placid seas, lifeguards from Guam’s fire department are on hand to provide assistance in the event of an emergency. Their presence ensures swimmers’ safe passage along the course.
Family, friends and spectators watch from the pier as the 5-mile swimmers seem to shrink with every stroke, their red caps departing farther from the pier and closer to Cocos Island.
As the sun continues to rise, the cool air from the previous night begins to burn off and race organizers prepare orange slices to relieve the swimmers upon their return. Spectators wait and watch the red buoys floating for any sign of the athletes.
After about 30 minutes, a buzz of excitement begins to hum at the finish line. The first swimmers in the 2.5 mile race are spotted in the distance making their way toward the pier.
Guam’s swimmers pulled ahead of the pack during this year’s race. Tommy Imazu, a 16-year-old from Guam, was the first in the 2.5 mile race to cross the finish line in just under 45 minutes. Ben Schulte was the winner of the 5-mile race, crossing the finish at 1 hour, 27 minutes.
A team from Hong Kong made waves during the 2015 race. Orienne Guillot, 14, of Hong Kong, was the women’s champion in the 2.5 mile, crossing the finish line at 48:52 just ahead of another swimmer from Hong Kong, Christina Pazos.
As the hundreds of swimmers make their way to the pier, children wave colorful flags and spectators cheer from the shore. Applause rings out as swimmers emerge from the lagoon, tired but with some lifting their fists triumphantly in the air.