SKANEATELES | Just before 9 a.m. Sunday, nearly every swimmer who "escaped from the judge" was out of the water — almost.

As the final two swimmers rounded the last buoy, loud roars and cheers resounded from behind the gate of the open swim area on Skaneateles Lake. Jill King, Skaneateles High School girls swimming and diving coach and some of her team, were cheering in anticipation of the one woman they were waiting on all morning.

As 71-year-old Alice Heaney emerged from the water, the group jumped in exuberant cheers and took off running with Heaney as she raced to the finish line.

The team and Heaney have a history of supporting each other.

For the last two years, Heaney's practiced with the team every day. As the high school swimmers dive and swim, Heaney takes to the diving board, too. And the team said “she does just fine on the diving board.” She's showed up to practices and swim meets and when it's her time to shine, team members come out and show their support for her, they said.

“She's one of the girls,” cheered King as she embraced Heaney following the swim. “Oh my gosh! She did great.”

Heaney was one of 300 swimmers who participated in annual one-mile swim race. At 8 a.m., 100 swimmers boarded Mid-Lakes Navigation’s Judge Ben Wiles and sailed out to Escape from the Judge and swim to shore. The remaining 200 swimmers jumped off the dock at the Skaneateles Country Club and followed suit. 

The race, which lasted a little more than an hour, had its fair share of suspense and a lot spectators anxiously waiting for swimmers to emerge from the water.

Sunday wasn't Heaney's first time in the race. She's participated for the last three years and at 71, she said she loves every second of it. She was beyond thrilled with her time, even though she was the second to last to emerge from the lake.

“This is the first time I broke one hour,” she said with her smile beaming from ear to ear. “It's just great and I think more people should do it.”

Participants of all ages from all over the country were up to the challenge. The beautiful weekend weather and calm waters made the swim a great experience, many said.

Local spectators provided plenty of support. People crowded the concrete lakefront wall and event gathered up on the sidewalk. Nearly everyone stayed long after they were through to the finish line to cheer on the remaining swimmers. And the last few swimmers brought a whole new meaning to the phrase saving the best for last.

Nikki Cole, a senior at Skaneateles High School ran alongside Heaney through the finish line and stood beside her after the race, proud of the woman who she said, is such a positive influence in her life.

“For someone her age to come out and do what she does is just awesome,” Cole said. “She's such an inspiration to all of us and watching her do this I can't help but think 'I want to be like that lady when I get older.'”

Staff writer Sistina Giordano can be reached at 282 -2237 or sistina.giordano@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenGiordano.

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