The first time I met Margaret Rivard, she was about 8 years old—just a wisp of a child, with a big toothy grin and a ravenous approach to the mile-long open water race she was about to undertake. I had been paired with Margaret to act as a “swim angel” supporter for her very first open water event, the 1-mile race held at the Kingdom Swim in Newport, Vermont. As soon as the gun fired, she took off, and I was left fumbling and struggling to keep up. Margaret didn’t need me then, and I knew before she’d even hit the halfway buoy that this child was headed for great things in open water.
Fast forward some 6 years, and Margaret has proved my early assessment correct. On 26 August 2021, at age 14, Margaret Rivard became the youngest swimmer to complete a solo crossing of the Catalina Channel, which she did in a time of 14:08:32 (to be ratified). She broke the age record that was set in 1971 by Stacey Fresonke Juler of Seal Beach, California. At the time, Juler was 14 years and 132 days old and Margaret is about a month younger. Though Margaret has been steadily climbing the distance ladder in open water, this was her first major channel crossing, and is her first step towards the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming. Watch for her to succeed in 20 Bridges and the English Channel in due time.
While Margaret is certainly a prodigy, she isn’t the only young Rivard who’s been making waves in open water lately. Margaret has had an enthusiastic guide into the world of marathon swimming in her older sister, Vera, who at age 17 on 18 August 2021 also completed the Catalina Channel, in a time of 14:10:53. This swim completes Vera’s Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming; in July 2020, she swam around Manhattan Island and in September 2020, she crossed the English Channel. She’s the second youngest swimmer to complete the trio of big events, after Charlotte Samuels who was 16 when she earned her third crown.
During her Catalina Channel crossing, Vera, who’s a rising senior at Kersarge High School in Springfield, New Hampshire, and hoping to continue her competitive ways in collegiate swimming, spent some 30 minutes treading water after the support boat’s propeller got hopelessly entangled in an errant crab pot buoy line. At the time, a 1-kilometer per hour current pushed Vera back toward Catalina Island. Despite the delay, once the boat was freed, Vera resumed her steady pace and made landfall in short order.
Huge congrats are in order for the Rivard sisters and their stalwart parents, Darcie DeBlois-Rivard and Kevin Rivard who have spent untold hours in kayaks and other watercraft supporting their talented progeny. Well done, Team Rivard!
— by Elaine Kornbau Howley