BRADENTON -- Three Bradenton firefighters will test their strength and endurance Saturday in the 38th annual Around-the-Island swim in Key West.
Bradenton Fire Deputy Chief David Ezell and firefighters Ken Campbell and Jeremy Nance will complete the 12.5-mile course around Key West as a relay team.
The three made their way to Key West on Thursday.
"We are all excited. The weather is looking good," Ezell said. "It is kind of a milestone for all of us."
Ezell learned of the event more than a year ago, and decided to put his swimming skills to the test.
"I have been swimming for a long time just as a way to exercise and something to do," Ezell said. "It's a very technical sport so I realized how, when you are swimming inefficiently, you can't go that far so I was looking for a goal to work toward."
But he didn't want to swim solo, he decided.
"I thought for myself being in administration it sets a good example for the rest of the firefighters. If I can work a full-time job behind a desk and still keep myself in shape, then these guys, it should be a way for them to stay in shape," Ezell said. "I think these two guys just like the challenge."
The Key West swim began when Anna Fugina, who swam to recover from a car accident, realized no one had ever circled Key West by swimming and decided it was a challenge worth pursuing.
On July 4, 1977, she took nearly 13 hours to complete the first Key West swimming circuit. Next year, after studying the tides, she completed the swim in about eight hours.
The current record was set in 1999 by Gabe Linsey in 3:31:28.
Ezell, Campbell and Nance have trained for months in anticipation of the big swim. Ezell works out twice a week in a master's swimming class at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton.
"That allows me to get my workouts in without taking away time from the office," Ezell said.
He goes swimming at the pool Fridays with a coach during his lunch hour. Campbell joins in, as well.
In addition to swimming, Campbell does performance and interval training, he said. He has participated in several triathlons.
Dance, known as the "hippie firefighter" at the station, however, doesn't like to step foot in a pool.
"I don't like pools that much. It's kind of like a treadmill to me," Nance said.
Instead, he does all his swimming in the ocean, he said.
The swim goes clockwise around the island with water temperatures expected of about 85 degrees. Swimmers could encounter nurse sharks but they are generally docile and the event has never had a shark attack.
Portuguese Man of War jellyfish are common in the area from December through February so it's not expected to be a problem. The three say encounters with jellyfish, however, are still possible. Jellyfish don't scare Nance, though.
About eight years ago, he was bitten by a shark while surfing off Vero Beach.
"It was more surprising than anything else," Nance said. "I got a couple dozen stitches in my arm and hand."
The experience never stopped him from swimming in the ocean, he said.
"It's a freak thing. There are relatively few shark attacks worldwide," Nance said.
The swimmers are accompanied by a support kayak throughout the race. The swimmer can eat and drink, but cannot touch the kayak, the seafloor or boats during transitions.
Protective skinsuits are also prohibited.
They expect to be able to complete the race in about six hours.
"World-class swimmers will finish it in about four," Ezell said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.