Erica Moffett is a member of a select group. She is one of only thirty swimmers in the world to have completed the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.” She has swum across the English Channel, around Manhattan, and completed the Catalina Island swim. In addition, she has swum across the Strait of Gibraltar, from Spain to Morocco, and around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Besides open water swimming, Moffett is a coach and member of the Masters Swim Team at Asphalt Green on the Upper East Side. Moffett was, in her own words, an unlikely candidate to end up in such elite company. “I was a couch potato for a while,” she admits. In 1997, at age 27, she started going to the gym. “My goal was to run a marathon, although I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it.” She ran the Philadelphia marathon that year and the experience whetted her appetite for endurance events. “Anytime you get into something you are not sure you can do, at the finish line, it’s a great feeling,” she says.
Soon she was competing in sprint triathalons—a one-half mile swim, followed by a 15-mile bike ride, and a 5K run—then moved up to Ironman events with longer distances. Initially she wasn’t comfortable swimming in lakes or rivers during the triathalons. “You think of all the things under you,” she says. “Even at the beach, I couldn’t go more than 20 feet out.” Over time, she began to feel more relaxed, particularly during races with many other swimmers around her.
By 2004, Moffett became bored with triathalons. The crowds that once seemed reassuring, now seemed stifling. And she was disturbed by the rampant commercialization that surrounded every event, with vast quantities of food offered at numerous aid stations. “You can actually gain weight doing a triathalon,” she says with a laugh.
Open water swimming seemed like the next logical challenge. But in order to succeed, Moffett knew she had to conquer her fear of swimming in open water. In addition, she needed to adjust her body for swimming in cold water if she was to attempt the English Channel, a goal for many open water swimmers.
The rules of open water swimming prohibit a swimmer from wearing a wet suit, which would provide some protection from the cold. Unlike many swimmers who crossed the channel in the past, including Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to complete the swim in 1926, Moffett’s lean form doesn’t provide extra body fat for warmth. So becoming acclimated to cooler water temperatures is critical.
When in training, Moffett swims at Brighton Beach in late April, early May when the water is just 50 degrees Farenheit. Moffett says that the cold water takes its toll, but the body does become used to the lower temperature. “It helps if you can swim every day,” she says, “but even if you take a break, your body remembers.”
Because the channel is known for its swift currents, a swimmer is dependent upon the weather reports in order to begin a swim. Moffett says she had three false starts, days when she was prepared to go and had to cancel, because of the strong tides. “It’s deflating,” she says. “You never know when you are going to be swimming. It’s a different mental challenge.” Finally, on February 6, 2006, she succeeded, completing the 28.5 mile swim in 14 hours, nine minutes.
Although swimming consumes a large part of her life, Moffett also holds down a demanding job as Associate Director of Equity Research for Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. She says her supervisors and co-workers have been supportive and proud of her swimming accomplishments. “I don’t have time for a lot of other things,” she admits. “I work and I swim.” She adds that with the discipline of work, “it’s good to have something else to do to cleanse the mind.”
Moffett has one more swimming goal on her list: Cook Strait, the body of water separating the north and south islands of New Zealand. The 16-mile strait is known for its strong tides and freezing temperatures. To date, only 61 swimmers have successfully completed the swim.
“Open water swimming is unique because it takes you back to the elements,” she says. “It’s just you and the water.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Shop: Reiss, Conran’s, Barnes and Noble (not the best bookstore in the city but they’re comfortable and selection is really good for a chain)
Favorite Place to Eat: My neighborhood bar, the Press Box. Food is good, the bartenders know me and they always have sports playing which I love to watch.
Favorite New York Sight: Right now…view from my apartment. Took me a long time to find, but it was worth the wait. I love watching the sunrise over the East River.
Favorite New York Moment: Any of the Manhattan Hudson River swims, but most special is finishing my swim around Manhattan and climbing into the boat just as sun was setting!
What I Love About New York: The energy, the ambition, the vibrancy. You can find anyone with any interest here!
What I Hate About New York: Sense of cramped-ness, if you know what I mean.