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Digital Subscriptions > Outdoor Swimmer > October 2018 > BIG SWIMS IN LITTLE RHODY


The smallest state in America has seen some big swimming events over the years. By Elaine K Howley

The American state of Rhode Island, despite its name, is not an actual island. The small, mostly rectangular chunk of land that measures less than 50 by 40 miles is sandwiched between the lower hanging arm of Massachusetts and the coastal block of Connecticut. Its southern border is dotted with small islands and features a long, islandfilled gash of water – Narragansett Bay – that runs most of the way up the state. Nicknamed the Ocean State, Little Rhody is America’s smallest, but features more than 400 miles of coastline. That means lots of water and plenty of places to swim, all of which raises the question of water safety. Enter Captain Roger W Wheeler.

A lifelong swimmer and lifeguard, in the 1930s Wheeler served as head of Rhode Island’s State Drowning Prevention Survey, a lifesaving organisation. During the Great Depression, times were tough, but Wheeler found a way to simultaneously make beaches around the state safer and the local economy a little brighter. A June 1936 article in the Newport Mercury, a Newport, Rhode Island– based newspaper, reported that Wheeler would be heading up “a new project that is to be started by the state unemployment relief commission.

This calls for unemployed men on the eligibility list to be assigned to Rhode Island beaches as lifeguards.” In addition, the programme, which was overseen by the Works Progress Administration, an ambitious New Deal agency that undertook large infrastructure and other public works projects to employ more Americans during the Depression, offered free, hour-long swimming lessons to anyone who wanted to learn.

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About Outdoor Swimmer

In our October issue we look at the hot topic of cold water swimming and whether it can help beat depression and find out how to get back your swim mojo if you need a motivation boost. Plus we test all the latest pool training gear; swim in wild waters in Norway, the Bahamas and Italy; and delve into the swimming history of America's smallest state. And we share more of your inspiring stories, photos and swimming adventures.