Flag Elicits ‘Go Aggies!’ Cheers in Tahoe Swim

Two swimmers touch handsw together in Lake Tahoe.
Heather Bischel, right, tags the next swimming the relay. Ann Willis, early in the swim across across Lake Tahoe July 20. “I love this picture because it captures the spirit of the day — and you can see our super cool UC Davis swim caps,” said the photographer, Irene Engilis, another member of the relay team.

UC Davis’ Women in Water Research swimmers added a new element to their third annual appearance in the Trans Tahoe Relay: a Gunrock flag flying from their support boat, a UC Davis research vessel, in the July 20 event.

Gunrock flag flies from boat.
Aggie Pride, flying and swimming at Tahoe.

“(The flag) really helped give us visibility,” said Irene Engilis, collections manager at the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology. “We were showered with hoorahs and support from many other teams who cheered ‘Go Aggies!’ and ‘Yeah, UC Davis!’ as we swam.”

Each of the six team members took turns swimming for 30 minutes at the outset, then 10-minute legs, in the same order, across the lake, 10 miles, from the Nevada side to the California side. Women in Water Research III completed the relay in 5 hours, 53 minutes, 54 seconds.

“I was so very proud to represent UC Davis in this epic swim event,” Engilis said of the relay that is 43 years old. “It was an honor to participate, swim for a noble cause and represent UC Davis.”

The noble cause: raising awareness for water research. This year’s team also raised money for science communication efforts, nearly $1,800 through GoFundMe, with some of the money also going to defray the team’s expenses. The GoFundMe page is still open.

Ann Willis, a graduate student in civil engineering and a staff researcher at the Center for Watershed Sciences, participating for a second year in a row and serving as team captain again, described this year’s weather as perfect: “Warm but not too hot, sunny, with a very light breeze.”

Oh, and since no wetsuits are allowed, water temperature of the alpine lake is important to note: It was 60 to 62 degrees Fahrenheit, almost 10 degrees colder than last year, but still swimmable, Willis said. “A steady supply of oatmeal and Cup-o-Noodles kept us warm!”

Six women holding UC Davis Aggies Gunrock flag.
The team, from left: Kelly Neal, Irene Engilis, Verónica Morales, Heather Bischel, Ann Willis and Melanie Gentles.

The team comprised Engilis and Willis; Heather Bischel and Verónica Morales, each an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and each participating for a third year; Kelly Neal ’19, a junior specialist at the Center for Watershed Sciences, in her second Trans Tahoe Relay; and newcomer Melanie Gentles, campus arborist. Geoff Schladow, director of UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center, joined the team as the captain of the center’s R/V Bob Richards.

Willis had the honor of swimming the last leg, coming ashore on Skylandia Beach: “It was my first time as the finishing swimmer, and I felt honored to get one more chance to contribute to our amazing team,” she said.

Engilis said: “My favorite part of the race was being part of a team of fellow women scientists and feeling the camaraderie, respect and support we had for each other.”

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