ISLAMORADA, Florida Keys – Over 460 national and international participants competed off the Florida Keys during the weekend Swim for Alligator Lighthouse, an 8-mile open-water challenge.
Tampa Bay, Florida, resident Connor Signorin, 29, emerged from the Atlantic Ocean Saturday as the top individual swimmer. The former University of Florida swimmer, who won All-American honors five times, turned in a time of 3 hours, 5 minutes and 37 seconds.
Top female finisher Brooke Bennett, 41, of Clearwater, Florida, completed the race in 3:19:20.
In other divisions, Tampa residents Andrew Lashlee and Robert Skaggs posted the fastest two-person relay time at 4:03:58.
Swimmers Michelle Dalton, Sara McLarty and Misty Bacerra, all of Clermont, Florida, won the three-person class in 4:15:32.
The winning four-person team was a mixed relay of male and female competitors from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tim Shead, Harold Wagner, Serge Wenzel and Ann Kilpatrick posted a time of 3:34:42.
Athletes swam to Alligator Reef Lighthouse off Islamorada, rounded the beacon and came back to the start and finish points at Amara Cay Resort.
Founded by Florida Keys artist “Lighthouse Larry” Herlth, the annual race is staged to raise awareness about the need to preserve the almost 150-year-old Alligator Lighthouse and five other aging lighthouses off the Florida Keys. The event also raises college scholarship funds for Keys students interested in competitive swimming.
Recently, the Islamorada community-based organization that hosts the annual swim was approved to take ownership of the lighthouse under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Restoring it is likely to take five to seven years and cost up to $9 million, according to organizers. Fundraising efforts have already begun at savealligatorlighthouse.org.
Constructed to warn ships away from the Florida Keys reef tract, the lighthouses are no longer maintained, as their function has been replaced by modern Global Positioning System navigation.
Alligator Reef Lighthouse, off Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, was named for the former U.S. Navy Schooner “Alligator,” that grounded on the reef in 1822. The vessel was blown up after removing as much equipment as possible to prevent it from being used by pirates. The lighthouse was established in 1873. Despite its name, there are no alligators that swim near the lighthouse as those reptiles live in freshwater habitats and the lighthouse is in the saltwater ocean.