Westerberg wins annual Sea Swim

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ST. CROIX - The annual Dolphins Sea Swim came down to a foot race.

Zak Westerberg and Victor Gaud swam side-by-side for the last 20 meters into the finish line at Rainbow Beach.

Westerberg gained better footing as he climbed the beach and lunged across the line with a winning time of 22 minutes and 48 seconds.

The 21-year-old senior at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., practiced his open-water swimming in the summer to improve on an 19th-place finish last year.

"One thing I learned over the summer is sometimes the land is your friend," Westerberg said. "You know, you can run a lot faster than you can swim."

Gaud finished two seconds later, and the Dolphins' 14-year-old Matthew Mays was third in 22:52. Gabriela Oquendo, 16, of Puerto Rico, was the top women's finisher and 12th overall in 24:50. Montclair's Katie LaCava was second in 25:08. Dolphins teammates Jamaris Washshah, 15, and Caylee Watson, 18, tied for third in 25:52.

Westerberg was joined by 29 Montclair teammates in the 125-person field, which started with a collective plunge off Frederiksted Pier. Competitors swam one mile north to the finish.

St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell was a community favorite as he swam in his first race since being shot in the arm and back in August.

"It was a perfect day for it," Howell said. "I think everybody was worried about the weather. It was fine. Just to finish is great. I'm just happy to be here."

Twenty youth swimmers from Ponce, P.R., competed with Gaud, 16, representing well for a second straight year. Seven members of the Ponce team participated last year, and Gaud improved two spots from his fourth-place finish in 2012.

Gaud swam too far wide of the buoy that signaled the final stretch to Rainbow Beach. The slip-up cost him a couple seconds though he managed to redirect and force Westerberg to dive across the line.

"I was too far open," Gaud said, "But when we are in the finish, I see the guy finish first, so I tried to run, but I fell and that's all right."

Race director and Dolphins treasurer Jodie Mays, Matthew's mother, said the event raised about $30,000 each of the previous eight years. A weaker economy, largely because of HOVENSA closing, cramped donations this year and the club raised about $20,000.

Mays' father Hans Lawaetz started the race about 30 years ago and it was revived in 2005.

- Contact Tim Chapman at 714-9102 or tchapman@dailynews.vi.

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