Pushing Oneself To Her Limits: Extreme Open Water Swimming In An Army Swim Cap

Erica Esterly


Erica Esterly was born in April 2002 in Philadelphia, but grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with her two younger siblings. Her father served in the Marines and is a health care executive. Her mother homeschooled the children and volunteers for different organizations. Erica’s interests include playing piano and swimming. During her senior year in high school, the COVID 19 pandemic began, which curtailed her competitive swimming (she swam for the high school and on a club team). When the pools closed, she began swimming in manmade lakes around Phoenix, which really started her interest in long-distance open-water swimming. She was recruited as a swimmer at both West Point and Annapolis, but loved the beauty of the Military Academy campus and felt that the humanities at West Point and the jobs in the Army were a better fit for her. Arriving at West Point in the summer of 2020, she experienced the COVID Beast and remembers the stations where the New Cadets had to recite the Cadet Creed as they washed their hands to ensure that they were washing long enough. She majored in Philosophy and will be graduating with honors. For her Cadet details, she served as a Beast Squad Leader and completed CTLT. She has done well physically, even completing the Norwegian Foot March. In addition to swimming, she is active in OCF (Officers’ Christian Fellowship). She started out on the Academy swim team, and recalls “virtual meets” during the pandemic where each team swam in their home pool and posted the times for each event, which were then tabulated to determine a winner. By Yearling year she began to focus more on open water swimming than competitive team swimming. In her experience, extreme long-distance swimming requires mental toughness but affords opportunities for deep reflection. Among other events, she has completed two swims around Manhattan, one of 28 miles in 7 hours and 28 minutes, and one of 57 miles in 19 hours and 49 minutes. On one swim around Manhattan, she ran into a telephone pole and went under the obstacle. She completed the Catalina Channel Swim, 20 miles in the open ocean, and a 4 Day SCAR swim through the lakes in Arizona (Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt Lakes). During these swims, she is accompanied by a boat with a swim official verifying that she is following the rules, and a kayak which provides support (hydration and nutrition). Even so, sometimes she feels alone, especially in darkness in the open ocean. She also discovered that she is prone to motion sickness and spent much of the Catalina Channel swim and one of the swims around Manhattan throwing up. She frequently trains in the Hudson River, spending several hours in the water. Additionally, she has a land-based training program to save wear and tear on her shoulders. She will commission as a Military Police Officer because she has always been interested in law enforcement. Shortly after graduation, she will marry one of her classmates. She hopes to one day attend graduate school and return to USMA to teach. She appreciates her time at the Military Academy and states that West Point means “pushing my limits” to become “the best version of myself.”


topics Army Athletics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie Women in Service West Point History Faith and Religion
interviewer David Siry
date 13 May 2024


name Erica Esterly
institution USMA
graduation year 2024
service Military Police
specialty Extreme Long-Distance Swimmer
service dates 2024