Harding swims outside of pool

The senior swam for Canada in the summer at the Pan American Games.

Thomas Jaakola

Senior Samantha Harding headed for open waters when the Gophers season ended last year.
 
Harding, a two-time All-American honorable mention, started open water swimming last May and raced in various 10 kilometer races throughout the summer. She finished in eighth place with a time of 2:04:37.7 in the open water 10 kilometer race at the 2015 Pan American Games in July, representing Canada.
 
“It helps my indoor swimming, but it’s also an event on its own, and I enjoy that,” Harding said.
 
Open water swimming takes place in a body of water as opposed to a pool, and swimmers are free to race however they choose, as opposed to being restricted by lane lines.
 
Harding raced in the Ontario Place West Channel with 17 other swimmers at the Pan American Games.
 
Harding first started open water swimming for Canada last May and plans to return to it next April after the collegiate season is over.
 
Harding said she likes traditional indoor distance swimming as much as outdoor open water swimming.
 
“It’s different,” Harding said. “I love racing … and I really enjoy the people I train with.”
 
Senior assistant coach Ryan Purdy said he thinks open water swimming is helping Harding this year at Minnesota.
 
“I think with Sam, it’s given her something to jumpstart what she’s doing in the pool. It’s completely different,” Purdy said. “It’s a distance race. You’re literally out there in open
water; you’re battling for position, [and] it’s given her a different way to approach what she’s doing in the pool in training on a daily basis.”
 
Harding said she liked that there are more strategic elements involved in open water swimming, such as determining where swimmers are.
 
“You have to look out for buoys, and it can get kind of violent, so you have to be able to handle yourself in kind of scary situations when people are all over the place,” Harding said.
 
Purdy said it takes a different type of swimmer to race in open water.
 
“They have to want it,” Purdy said. “A lot of times it’s a two-hour race. It’s very physical, and there are no lane lines. It’s a lot about jockeying for position and setting yourself up. It’s a different feel.”
 
To get through the long, difficult two hours of rough open water swimming, Harding said she sings to herself.
 
Head coach Kelly Kremer said he’s had a number of both former and current athletes who have open water swam during their time with the Gophers, including former athlete Christine Jennings, who now competes in open water events for the U.S. National team.
 
Kremer said open water swimming has helped previous swimmers out in the pool. It hasn’t hurt Harding so far, as she was named the Big Ten swimmer of the week on Wednesday.
 
“I think the biggest help for Sam is that she is just a much more focused and determined athlete,” Kremer said. “It’s certainly showed up in the pool as well. She has never swam better then she has right now.”