Open-water Swimmer Sandra Frimerman-Bergquist

Excelsior resident makes a name for herself in open-water races.
Sandra Frimerman-Bergquist swam in the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test last year.

In the past nine years, Excelsior resident Sandra Frimerman-Bergquist has seen more of Lake Minnetonka than most people see in their lifetimes.

Her method? Open-water swimming.

Frimerman-Bergquist, a 2002 graduate of Eden Prairie High School, competed in traditional swimming in a pool at the collegiate level for two years at the University of Northern Iowa (2003) and then at St. Cloud State University (2004), but changed lanes in 2007 and took to open-water swimming, where athletes swim and compete in lakes and large natural bodies of water.

The Lake Minnetonka Five-Mile, which she has now been racing in for 11 years, was Frimerman-Bergquist’s first big open-water event. “After that, I just kept on looking for longer and longer [races],” she says. Her open-water repertoire includes an attempt at the most famous venue: the English Channel. But she says that her favorite body of water for this style of swimming is our very own Lake Minnetonka. In fact, you might spot her training here during the summer. To help spot her, she says she usually has a kayak escort, a brightly colored swim cap, or a swim safely device (an orange buoy that’s pulled behind the swimmer).

In addition to watching for debris and other obstacles in her path, the kayak escort also helps Frimerman-Bergquist stay on course. “The biggest challenge would have to be going straight,” she admits. “The thing about open-water races is that you can go to the same race every year and your time will be different, because the course changes. Everything’s different every time you do it, which is really nice.”

This past July, Frimerman-Bergquist added a first-place title at the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (END-WET) to her list of accomplishments. END-WET, a muddy 36-mile race down the Red River, is the longest open-water swimming race in North America and the 10th longest in the world. She finished in an impressive 10 hours and 44 minutes. “I liked the challenge of seeing how long I could go. I’ve never really swum that many miles before and for that amount of time,” she explains. “That was my big motivation; I just wanted to finish. It just kind of lined up that I was first.”

The day started out rainy and dreary, but about 10 minutes after the 11-mile checkpoint, salvation from the sun helped her push through. “After I got to 20 miles, I knew, ‘All right, I can do this,’” Frimerman-Bergquist says. “I kind of went into cruise control and tried to enjoy myself for the last little bit of it and take in the scenery. I got to watch the sunset as I was coming in. It was really nice.”

She explains that the open-water swimming community is often dedicated to swimming for a good cause. Frimerman-Bergquist swims to raise awareness about health, fitness and the benefits of swimming for mental health, an area where she has personal experience. She says she’s benefitted from swimming as an outlet to ease anxiety. “I would say half, if not more, of my team goes to swim practice for the same reason: To keep our lives in balance, be with each other and help each other through those hard times,” she explains. “You can be open about it, and then it inspires others to do the same and go after their goals.” She’s currently a member of the Hopkins Masters’ Swim Team, which trains in Hopkins and Lake Minnetonka.

Frimerman-Bergquist’s open-water swimming bucket list includes finishing the Ocean’s Seven, seven open-water swimming challenges all over the world; a multi-state competition called SCAR Swim; and 8 Bridges, a race down the Hudson River.

For more information about open water swimming, visit the website here.