2020 – The 5th Anniversary Of 14-Mile Severn River Swim 

— by Havana Mullaly, SRA Reporter

Growing up in Severna Park, Jim Shepard was often found swimming in the Severn River.

At a young age Jim was fascinated by swimming and was a part of the Severn River Swim Club during the 70’s. Back then, our treasured Severn River was in sad, sad shape.

Despite how polluted the river was, Jim didn’t let this stop him from swimming on a regular basis. As he got older, Jim began developing a love for swimming, especially in the open waters of the Severn.

One thing he distinctly remembers was swimming through oddly colored water. He would frequently come across what locals then called “red tides.”

These “tides” were actually algae blooms now described as Mahogany Tides. They covered the entire river’s surface.

As the algae went through their life cycle, they’d decompose and deplete the oxygen in the water, which then challenged the survival of other organisms.

This was as concerning back then as it is today, but thankfully, the tides in the 1970’s seemed to be more common in the fall rather than the summer when the majority of people swam.

As Jim’s swimming career continued to advance, he moved to San Francisco to pursue his passion in 2013. There he trained for many years as an open ocean swimmer and continued to improve.

One day while living in San Francisco, Jim came up with the idea to use his swimming skills to swim the entire length of the Severn River – a 14-mile journey from Ben Oaks to the mouth of the Severn River. This had never been done before.

Swimming To Honor His Brother

With lots of training and perseverance, he and his friend, Garry Aguiar, began to take the steps to achieving this goal. Many have asked Jim what his motivation was to accomplish this task.

His answer was very inspiring. His older brother had been diagnosed with ALS and he wanted to complete an event in honor of him. Jim enlisted his old pal, Garry, and they started planning the expedition. This was truly remarkable.

After a long 8 hours, Jim and Garry completed their 14-mile swim. Jim says the experience was amazing, as many friends from Annapolis and Severna Park came out to watch and cheer as the incredible feat took place. Jim says it was awesome to reconnect with friends he had grown up with and he felt a strong sense of community.

While the event took place, Jim also noticed how the water quality had improved tremendously during the years he had been in California. The river was no longer a dark coffee color, but instead it looked significantly clearer. This was very encouraging to hear, especially from someone who knows the river so well. It is exciting to see that the water quality has shown improvement and more improvements are surely within reach.

It is critical that we continue to work towards protecting the river for many years to come so that swimmers like Jim can stay safe.