CHARLESTON — Most Marshall University spring graduates walked across the stage at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Saturday and received their diplomas.
Katie Kramer, a Yeager scholar and member of Marshall’s swimming and diving team, did not.
She was in Spain, training for what would become a record-breaking intercontinental swim from Europe to Africa.
Kramer, 21, of Naples, Fla., completed the 8.9-mile swim from Tarifa, Spain to Point Cires, Morocco, without a wet suit Sunday, becoming the youngest American female to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar.
“For about the last two kilometers, the currents were strong against us,” Kramer wrote to the Daily Mail in a Facebook message from Spain Monday. “It was (and still is) completely surreal to finally touch land on the other side, and I got a little scraped up from the rocks, but I was just so thankful to have reached the goal.”
The record for the youngest American female to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar was previously held by Mary Margaret Revel, who made the crossing at the age of 24 on June 28, 1962.
Kramer’s swim started with a Google search in October, 2012. She was looking into potential study abroad opportunities when she saw the Strait of Gibraltar on a map. She said swimming from Europe to Africa became part of her “bucket list.”
Bill Tramel, head swimming coach for Marshall, couldn’t make it to Spain for the swim, but he pulled an all-nighter to track Kramer’s progress online. Kramer began her swim at 8:30 a.m. local time, 2:30 a.m. Eastern time Sunday.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Tramel said. “She was number 426 ever. The first person did it in 1928. But if you know Katie, in some ways, she just kind of shrugs her shoulders because she is so humble.”
Paul Thein, president and CEO of the Greater Naples YMCA, also closely followed Kramer’s swim. Kramer swam with a goal of raising $50,000 for the Greater Naples YMCA, which is still recovering from a Labor Day fire sparked by a lightning strike last year.
“(Kramer’s swim) was texted all across the Y membership,” Thein said. “We’re excited to see her home. A lot of the little kids really admire her and would like to celebrate her as the champion she is.”
The money will help re-stripe the lanes of the center’s pool, where she developed her swimming skills as a child, and fund a scoreboard for competitive racing events.
“It’s been a rough year for this Y,” Thein said. “We’ve been in business here since 1968, but this has been a trying year. When Katie approached us with this swim, it was daunting for us to get involved with it because we were struggling to stay afloat, but she handled all of it: the marketing, the fundraising, all of it. You really can’t ask for more.”
Kramer’s father, Bill, a high school football coach in Naples, managed Katie’s fundraising while she was at Marshall University. Katie said she raised “several thousand dollars” for the YMCA, and gained lots of support from her family and friends in Naples and Huntington.
“I was in Huntington while most of the fundraising took place and am grateful for my dad managing much of the financial aspect at home,” Katie said. “While I was home for spring break, I did a few interviews with the local media and was able to get my story and purpose out. The support, financial and otherwise, of family, friends, and the communities in Naples and Huntington has been unbelievable and I am so grateful.”
After doing some research, Kramer found out that only a handful of people have successfully swam across the strait. She applied for a window to make the swim through the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association, which manages all swim attempts across the strait, and was accepted. She would cross the strait sometime between May 10 and May 16.
Kramer faced many challenges while training for the big swim. She was struck by a car while riding her bicycle in Naples last summer and suffered a fractured ankle. She was still recovering while studying abroad at Oxford University in the United Kingdom last summer.
A “sprinter,” Kramer is accustomed to swimming short events in a pool, not hours across an open body of water. She would have to re-train herself for such an endurance swim.
“It is certainly an anomaly of how swimmers usually operate,” Tramel said.
Kramer worked with Tramel some to develop endurance-swimming technique, but Tramel said Kramer took most of the training upon herself. She spent much of her spring break in March training in the Gulf of Mexico and at the Greater Naples YMCA.
Kramer flew to Spain May 7 with her dad and aunt to wait for her chance at making history. The swim is dangerous, so the Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association only facilitates swims between May and October; and even then, the organization waits until wind and tide conditions are perfect before allowing swimmers to cross.
Swimmers face chilly waters that only reach 71 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. And the strait is one of the busiest shipping passages in the world, so swimmers must sometimes dodge giant cargo ships.
Kramer’s preparations paid off on March 11, after waiting only one day into her approved window to swim the strait.
“The water felt great and I was completely prepared from my training in the pool at Marshall and in open water at home,” Kramer said. “We were actually able to faintly see the coast of Africa when we left Spain and there was one huge mountain that gradually kept growing. Every time I stopped to feed, I’d check out the two coastlines — European and African — and it was exciting to begin to make out details on Morocco’s side.”
Kramer accomplished all this while working to graduate from Marshall’s College of Business in just three years. In fact, the past week has been so hectic for Kramer, she didn’t know she had officially graduated from Marshall until a Daily Mail reporter told her.
“Haha so I did officially graduate??” Kramer wrote. “I guess that weekend’s tough to beat!”
Dr. Nicki LoCascio, associate dean of the Marshall Honors College, said Kramer will be the first student in Marshall history to pursue a master’s degree as a Yeager scholar. Kramer will begin working toward her Master of Business Administration at Marshall in the fall.
“She’s on the swim team, and a Yeager scholar, and has managed to excel academically and on the swim team as well,” LoCascio said. “Her time management skills have to be outstanding.
“She finished up her major very quickly and as a result, she graduated on Saturday,” LoCascio said. “We are allowing her to pursue her MBA as a Yeager scholar. I don’t think this has ever been done before, but Katie has excelled at everything she’s put her hands to.”
Excelling at being a student-athlete and Yeager scholar while training for the swim of her lifetime was no small feat. Yeager scholars have to complete more coursework and take more classes than regular students, and as a member of Marshall’s swim team, Kramer was sometimes out-of-state for swim meets for days.
But Kramer went the extra mile to make sure she accomplished all the goals she had set.
“It’s such a blessing to have the opportunities I’ve had through both the Yeager program and Marshall swimming, and those involved on both sides have been so supportive and understanding,” Kramer said. “I’ve missed Yeager seminars for swim meets, and made up lots of practices on my own when Yeager seminars conflict with afternoon practice.”
LoCascio said Katie’s sister, Courtney, also attends Marshall on a Yeager scholarship — Marshall’s most prestigious scholarship, available only to the highest academic achievers.
“I think Katie Kramer epitomizes what we expect of Yeager scholars, and exceeds it,” LoCascio said. “I can’t think of enough praise for the Kramers. I think the whole family has contributed to their children’s accomplishments.”
Thein said Kramer and her family have been lifelong supporters of the Naples YMCA, and he hopes that because of Kramer’s generosity toward the YMCA, other young, aspiring swimmers in the Naples area may have the opportunity to fall in love with the sport.
Ion Lazarenco, 36, of Moldovia, a country land-locked between Romania and Ukraine, had to wait more than 10 days before he was allowed to swim; he reached Morocco 13 minutes after Kramer.
Kramer said Lazarenco is going to swim the English Channel, which separates France and the United Kingdom by 20.6 miles, in the fall. Now, Kramer is considering a swim across the Channel, too.
“I had absolutely no intention of swimming in that freezing water, but now I’m going to have to look into it!” Kramer said.
Kramer will stay in Spain for a few more days, then will travel to Germany for a short study abroad program.
Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or email@example.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.