Why we swim

Only those who have crossed the Ohio River — from Cincinnati to Kentucky and back — truly understand the allure of the Bill Keating, Jr. Great Ohio River Swim.


2018 offers another year for river lovers to take to the water. For some of us it is about the serenity and quiet, as the fog lifts and the sun shines — and on the return seeing the skyline from a unique vantage point. For others it is about exercise. And many simply want to support the charity while embarking on an early morning adventure. It is for both hearty and strong swimmers, yet does not require a background in competitive swimming.


The Ohio River swimmers jump in the water at the upper end of the serpentine wall, swim across the river to Newport, then back to the boat ramp at the public landing. Total distance is approximately one half mile (or about 40 lengths in a swimming pool).


Prior to the swim, the river is closed to all motorized traffic by the U.S. Coast Guard and is enforced by local and regional law enforcement agency vessels. Flotillas of safety kayakers line the course to assist swimmers if necessary.


The velocity of the river is usually very slow this time of year, less than one mph, and the V-shaped course allows for swimmers’ downstream “drift” due to the current. Water quality is monitored prior to the event to assure safe conditions for all swimmers. The water temperature is usually in the low- to mid-80s, warm enough so that wet suits are not necessary.


Brewster Rhodes, a long-time river enthusiast, founded the annual event 11 years ago. His passion for the city’s front yard is clear — through both Paddlefest and The Swim.

When he started The Swim, it was a project of the Ohio River Paddlefest, which, along with The Swim, benefits The Outdoor Adventure Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit that he also helped launch. The organization sends inner-city children outdoors to learn, thrive, and grow.

Initially, the main reason behind The Swim was to demonstrate to the public that the Ohio is cleaner and safer than most people think, and to encourage participants and the general public to value and advocate for our river.

Currently The Swim has an additional mission, like Paddlefest, to promote adventurous outdoor recreational opportunities available in Greater Cincinnati.

Sadly, in year ten of the swim, Bill Keating, Jr. passed away. Bill and his family have been long-time swimmers and fans of The Swim. His daughter, Caroline Keating, was approached about becoming the event chair and naming The Swim after her dad.


“My dad talked me into doing The Swim back in 2007 because he loved the idea of another challenge. I think I was the only one who agreed the first year, and then my brother and sister followed along in later years. It was always a competition to see who finished first,” says Keating.


“Then, a few years ago my brother, Joe, and I escorted my grandpa (Bill Keating, Sr., former member of Congress, Judge, and Cincinnati Enquirer publisher) in The Swim. My dad loved it for two reasons: 1) We couldn’t race him, and 2) His dad was in his 80s and completing the swim,” she continues.


“It was always a family event,” she says, “and I could never get out of it. I cannot wait until my niece and nephews are old enough to do the Next Generation swim, maybe next summer.”


This year’s Bill Keating, Jr. Great Ohio River Swim is on Sunday, Oct. 14*. To view register or view the schedule of events, visit www.greatohioriverswim.com

*Update: This year's swim has been cancelled due to unsafe river conditions.