MSF Service to Marathon Swimming Award, 2019-20 – Phil White

phil white
Phil White. Photo by Karen Nazor.

The recipient of the 2019-2020 MSF Service to Marathon Swimming Award, recognizing outstanding contributions to the sport in a non-swimming role, is Phil White. Phil was the leading nominee from a round of write-in nominations from the MSF membership earlier this year. The award was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the MSF Core Team.

Few open water swimming organizers have built so much — from so little — as Phil, founder of the Kingdom Swim, In Search of Memphre, “Swim the Kingdom” week, the Memphremagog Winter Swimming Festival, and the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association. From his “Clubhaus” in the remote Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Phil looked out on the iconic local lake (Memphremagog) and saw potential, despite the small population base and lack of community infrastructure for open water swimming.

Starting with the 10-mile Kingdom Swim in 2009, Phil gradually expanded to a year-round programme of events, the Kingdom Games. By 2019, Kingdom Games supported 171 swimmers on 16 distinct marathon swims, as part of “over 30 days of running, biking, swimming, kayaking, speed skating, Nordic skating, and winter swimming events” involving over 1,500 athletes from around the nation and abroad. Bear in mind, the population of the entire county where Lake Memphremagog sits is only 27,000.

In addition to event organizing, Phil has piloted and crewed on numerous solo swims, including Sarah Thomas’ world-record setting 104-mile Lake Champlain swim.

In his ambitious vision to create world-class open-water swimming opportunities in an improbable, landlocked location, Phil stands among the most powerful and consistent contributors to the sport over the past 10 years. To paraphrase a famous movie line: He built it, and they came.