Katelyn’s Endurance

By Beacon Staff

Last summer, Emily von Jentzen became the third person and first woman ever to swim the length of Flathead Lake. To cover the roughly 30-mile distance from Somers to Polson, it took her 18 ½ hours, thousands of calories and several bags of Swedish Fish, her favorite candy.

But the number that sticks with her today is $9,500, the amount she raised for Karmyn Flanagan, a 3-year-old girl from Missoula battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Now that von Jentzen, a 28-year-old endurance swimmer from Kalispell, is trying to become the first known person to swim the length of northern Washington’s chilly Lake Chelan, all of the numbers, from the overall distance to her caloric intake, will be substantially bigger.

Again, the number that matters most, the one she hopes increases the most, is the amount of money she raises for a little girl in need.

On Aug. 31, von Jentzen will attempt to swim 55 miles across Lake Chelan to raise funds for Katelyn Roker, a 5-year-old Kalispell girl battling high-risk, Stage-4 neuroblastoma. There is no known cure for the deadly cancer and last week Roker was in a New York hospital receiving experimental, and painful, treatment.

“I knew if I was going to do a swim like this again I wanted it to be a cause I felt strongly about,” von Jentzen said last week before a training session on Flathead Lake. “It’s really cool to use something that I love to do something good.”

“I think the last thing this family should have to worry about,” she added, “is finances.”

Von Jentzen, a deputy attorney at the Flathead County Attorney’s Office, expects her Lake Chelan swim to take 26-28 hours in water temperatures hovering around 65 degrees. It will be cold and, at times, very dark. She plans to embark at noon, wearing a wetsuit, so that she is still fresh during the nighttime stretch. The sensation of swimming alone in a huge lake at midnight is, by her estimation, “weird.”

“I love the feeling of being the only one in the water,” she said, “and in the middle of the night in Lake Chelan I can confidently say I’m the only one in the water.”

Though she will be flanked by two pontoon boats carrying support crews, von Jentzen will never so much as touch the boats, in accordance with USA Swimming open water rules. She followed the rules during the Flathead Lake swim as well, to ensure that her feat is officially valid. Food and beverages were thrown to her in bags from support boats. Then the bottles, packaging and other debris were netted.

This time around, von Jentzen has been working with a nutritionist to make sure she properly fuels herself before and during the swim. On Flathead Lake, she subsisted on a diet of gummy bears, Goldfish crackers, pretzels, peanut butter sandwiches and Swedish Fish.

“I couldn’t eat Swedish fish for a month after that swim,” she said.

To conquer Lake Chelan, von Jentzen anticipates needing to eat up to 14,000 calories. She will likely keep the peanut butter sandwiches in her diet but drop the candy. In training sessions, she’s also experimenting with cream cheese rolled in lunchmeat and possibly Go-Gurt. For liquids, she will drink water and Cytomax, a sports nutrition drink. The drink’s maker, CytoSport, is sponsoring her Lake Chelan endeavor.

Eating, von Jentzen said, is tricky while treading water.

“I call it eating otter style – on my back,” she said. “It’s harder than you think, especially when there’s other boats that cause waves. You don’t want your food to get wet.”

Von Jentzen swam collegiately at Central Washington University before attending law school at the University of Montana. While she has demonstrated she has the physical tools for endurance swimming, there are also other tools of concern, such as GPS. On Flathead, due to a combination of wind and poorly performing GPS devices, she veered off course and ended up swimming 31 miles instead of her anticipated 28.

This year, she has newer GPS devices and crewmembers who are more experienced using the technology. An extra mile or two means a lot when you’ve already been in the water for more than 20 hours. Von Jentzen figures if the weather cooperates like it did last year on the Flathead, she will be able make history.

“Lightning,” she said. “That’s the only thing for sure that will pull me out of the water.”

Donations in support of Katelyn Roker’s family are accepted at von Jentzen’s training blog, A Lakke for Katelyn (www.alakkeforkatelyn.blogspot.com). Lake is spelled with two k’s to signify Roker’s nickname KK.

Donations can also be mailed to Emily von Jentzen at P.O. Box 10992 Kalispell, MT 59904 or deposited in a special account at First Interstate Bank locations.