Meet the youngest swimmer racing through Buzzards Bay

Jun 21, 2017

At ten years old, Emma Whittaker is by far the youngest competitor in this year's Buzzards Bay Swim, but she's not worried.

"I know I can do it," she said confidently.

The Rochester Memorial School student and Rochester native is finishing up her first year on the Under-12 swim team at the New Bedford YMCA. Before taking up swimming, she was a gymnast and dance student, but found she liked life in the water better.

In her first year of swimming, Emma won the Coach's Award, given to a swim team member who attends nearly every practice, cheers on teammates, learns from each swim, and exemplifying hard work and diligence.

So when the opportunity came up for her to swim in the Buzzards Bay Race came up, she didn't hesitate. "I wanted to challenge myself," she said. "Also, I love Silvershell Beach, and that's on Buzzards Bay, so I wanted to help keep it clean."

Emma's drive to succeed will follow her to the race. "I don't know which will be more fun," she explained, "actually swimming in the race or seeing what my time is."

She said she was shooting for under 45 minutes. "My training swim time was a half hour, but that was in a pond."

She'll be accompanied by her mother Jessica Whittaker, who will be nearby in a kayak throughout the 1.2 mile swim. Jessica explained that Emma's coach felt she was strong enough to do the swim on her own, but that the risk of panicking in the open water is higher for children than adults.

"Plus," Jessica said, "I don't think I'd let her go out alone anyway. She can do it all on her own, I would just prefer to be able to see her."

"I think I'm more nervous than Emma is," she added.

"I'm not nervous," Emma replied with a smile.

Emma is swimming one day shy of her 11th birthday - Buzzards Bay Swim participants are supposed to be aged 11 or older on the day of the race. The one day cutoff meant that Jessica Whittaker had to search out a special waiver for Emma to be allowed to swim. "She does well with long distance, so we thought she might want to give the swim a try," Jessica explained. "I decided to figure out who I needed to bug to get a one-day waiver."

The waiver was eventually granted by Buzzards Bay Coalition director Mark Rasmussen himself.

If all goes well, Emma plans to continue swimming, and to return to the Buzzards Bay Swim next year.