KU swim coach plans to bring first collegiate open-water championships to Lone Star Lake

Clark Campbell, pictured at far right in this Journal-World file photo from June 2014, is coach of the Kansas University swim team. He hopes to bring the first collegiate open-water championships to Lone Star Lake. His wife Cassie, second from right, is a former college swimmer, and their three children — from left, Canaan, Cierra and Claire — have had success with Ad Astra Area Aquatics and Free State High’s swimming teams.

Kansas University swim coach Clark Campbell is proof the example of sports innovation Dr. James Naismith set continues among Jayhawk coaches.

Campbell is planning to bring the first collegiate open-water championships to Lone Star Lake. As a step toward that goal, Campbell has sent a letter to Douglas County public works director Keith Browning, requesting use of the lake Sept. 15 through 17. Commissioners are to consider the request Wednesday.

Campbell said with open-water swimming now an Olympic event, there has been interest among university swim coaches to introduce the sport at the college level. As a board member of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, he approached the organization about KU hosting the first collegiate men’s and women’s open-water, 5-kilometer championships at Lone Star Lake.

“It’s the first ever,” he said. “We’re trying to bring open-water swimming to Lawrence. It’s serendipitous we can set up a 5K so perfectly on Lone Star. It’s a perfect place for an open-water race.”

With the 5K race starting and ending at Lone Star’s swimming beach, it’s a good spot for spectators, too, Campbell said.

“There’s a lot of spectator access,” he said. “They should be able to watch a good two-thirds of the race.”

Spectators witnessing the start of the races, which are scheduled for a Saturday the KU football team is on the road, are in for a treat as they watch all the competitors in a race start at the same time, Campbell said.

“A mass start is something unlike anything you’ve ever seen in sports,” he said. “It’s kind of like professional wrestling meets swimming. There is some strategy that goes into getting a good start.”

Lawrence’s Midwestern location is also a plus for the event, because it makes travel affordable for schools from the East and West coasts, Campbell said.

The College Swimming Coaches Association of America, rather than the NCAA, will sanction the event. It’s possible that could change if the event proves popular and open-water swimming continues to grow, Campbell said.

Whatever the future holds for the sport, the KU coach is thankful his athletes will have another opportunity to compete.

“It’s a good way for our pool athletes to experience something new and challenge themselves,” he said. “It gives them the chance to see if it’s something they want to pursue. It’s something you don’t know you’re good at unless you do it.”

Libby Walker, a freshman distance swimmer on the KU team, competed in open-water events from ages 11 through 14 and plans to compete in April at USA Swimming’s open-water national championships in Florida. She enjoys the longer distances and the absence of split turns, which are not her best skill, the Columbia, Mo., native said.

It is a form of competitive swimming more geared to mature competitors, and Walker plans to continue with the sport after her KU career.

“It’s a combination of endurance and knowing how to maneuver in something other than a pool,” she said. “You have to have strength because people kick and scratch at the starts. It gets a little violent.”

The KU swimmers won’t be new to Lone Star, Walker said. They train every Wednesday at the lake from the start of school in August through early October.

In his letter to Browning, Campbell estimated there would 150 to 200 athletes at the event and 30 to 50 coaches and support personnel. Those numbers were a “shot in the dark,” and he would have a better idea of how many schools would participate after attending a College Swimming Coaches Association of America meeting in May, he said.

His letter to the county commission requests use of Lone Star Lake for Sept. 15, 16 and 17. The request asks that the lake be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 to prepare for the event, and from 6 a.m. to noon Sept. 17 for the actual competition.