Katie Pumphrey felt confident that she was going to finish the 24-mile swim.

She had good reason to be. Though it was the first time anyone swam from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Harborplace Amphitheater in the Inner Harbor, Pumphrey has the title of the triple crown of open-water swimming, having previously swum through the English Channel, around Manhattan Island and across the Catalina Channel in California.

Every swim, she said, is an emotional roller coaster. This one was extra special.

“I love this city so much,” she said. “Baltimore should be proud of our city. I want more people to talk about how awesome it is. So, if my swim helps to highlight everything that the city is and has been and can be — I’m just honored.”

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We had a lot of questions for her: Did she see any wildlife? What did she eat leading up to the swim? Did she pee in the water?

(No, but she felt tiny jellyfish getting stuck on her swimsuit; a lot of Momofuku and Ekiben and some breakfast for dinner; yes, and she told her crew each time she did too.)

Distance swimmer Katie Pumphrey completed a historical swim in which she swam 24 miles from Sandy Point State Park at the foot of the Bay Bridge to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 25, 2024. The swim took her about thirteen hours, non-stop, minus a few hydration and nourishment breaks. Pumphrey had two support boats, a support swimmer and a support kayak with her on her journey.
Fingers pruny from fourteen hours of swimming, Katie Pumphrey presses them to her face as her eyes swell with tears upon looking at all of her supporters. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Here’s what she had to say:

The Baltimore Banner: How are you feeling?

Katie Pumphrey: I’m feeling really happy. Definitely, very sore, very crispy, sunburned and wildly, just wildly happy. I keep crying out of happiness, of how wonderful the entire day was, and especially the finish line.

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A lot of work went into planning the swim. So, to see it happen, to be able to start to swim, and then to swim into sunrise, out in the bay, and then into the Patapsco, under the Key Bridge, and into Baltimore, where so many Baltimoreans were cheering on the shore and so many at the finish ... and even other Marylanders were out on the water early in the morning and on their docks. It was just — I dreamt that this would be a huge message and a huge celebration for all of Baltimore and Maryland. And I think it definitely was and continues to be.

The Banner: Were you expecting that many people to be there to cheer you on in the end?

(Pumphrey nods no)

Pumphrey: I was really hoping that people would come out. But hearing my name, and people cheering as soon as I turned the corner, and could see the Constellation, and then the Harborplace kind of came into view. And then I realized that “Oh, those are people.”

That was, like, one of many times in the last several hours leading up to that moment that I just started crying. I really was crying a lot, so much, from Fort McHenry, and especially seeing my family on the pirate ship, kayak clubs coming out. ... People standing out on Under Armour. I definitely I had to stop my goggles several times because the tears were fogging my view.

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Supporters cheer Katie Pumphrey as she nears the end of her 24-mile swim from Sandy Point State Park at the foot of the Bay Bridge to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 25, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The Banner: What emotions did you go through during the swim?

Pumphrey: I always say these swims are – no matter how prepared you are or no matter how difficult or easy the conditions are – it is always a roller coaster of emotions. You know, its nervousness, its excitement, it’s “Oh my gosh. Whose idea was this?” and “Why am I here? When is it going to end?”

I’m in so much pain, I’m uncomfortable, I’m tired, hungry. They were really hard points where, physically, I was struggling. And I’m very thankful to my crew, and especially to Sarah and Megan, my support swimmers. Each of them did an hour each in earlier in the day, and they did an hour each later into Baltimore. Especially that second round coming into Fort McHenry, it was just the gnarliest current going against me.

I was confident, really, from the moment I got in that that I would finish. But the heat definitely brought on a lot of emotions. I’ve never done a swim that warm. For most of the day, the water felt hotter than the air.

The Banner: What do you think about during your long swims? Like, are you singing songs to yourself? Are you just recapping podcasts?

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Pumphrey: I think about everything. There are definitely moments where my mind is more blank, and I’m just focused on what I’m doing.

In the beginning, the first, like two hours, especially in all of the darkness those hours I was so focused on being able to see my crew. It took a little bit of, you know, a little bit of time for us to find a rhythm on that. When we started, my brother, Chris, was in the kayak. He was the first kayaker, so the only way that I could see is he had glow sticks on the kayak and a headlamp on his head. But every time he would look at me, the headlamp would kind of blind me.

So once the boat was able to be next to me, the main support boat, then I kind of got a better, better visual. But even so that the water was choppy, it was dark. All of their light made light and shadow suddenly in the water, which, when you’re trying to stay calm, shadows appearing in front of you in darkness and dark water definitely raised my blood pressure. So, between that and very choppy water, I was really just thinking about trying to find a rhythm in my stroke and get a good breath of air every time.

Distance swimmer Katie Pumphrey during her swim from Sandy Point State Park to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 25, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

And then when the sun started to come up, it was just so beautiful. I started thinking about this big, giant painting I’m working on that I’m hoping to have done by the end of July for the [Sondheim Art Prize] semifinalist show that I’m in. That painting is based on a painting by John Singleton Copley, and it’s called “Watson and the shark.”

It’s kind of this like seascape scene. It’s really dramatic, and there’s this wild-looking shark, because John Singleton Copley had never seen a shark, so it looks kind of like a weird sea monster. So I went back and forth from thinking about his painting to brainstorming my painting, which is kind of a take on the composition of that painting and a nod to that painting, but it will be more tied to swimming and what I’m seeing from the water, as well as every thought that goes into my imagination.

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But in the sunrise, and especially as the sun coming started to come up, I did ask my niece Nayev to write down a few colors that I want to put into those paintings. I requested periwinkle, like a purplish color.

The sunrise had these, like most beautiful, like oranges and corals. But when I looked back at the boat away from the sun, it was just this really awesome purple, and then that all combined with Joe wearing this Blaze yellow shirt, it was just really cool.

Katie Pumphrey drinks a beer after she touches her endpoint, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, after her historial swim on June 25, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The Banner: Did you take any breaks?

Pumphrey: I definitely stopped for longer during my feeds. But I wouldn’t call it a break, because I’m still swimming, still kicking or treading. But because I was focused on hydrating so much, and also, I just wanted to take in the moment and the view of my crew and the view of the bay, especially coming into Baltimore, I definitely took longer feed stops than I do in most swims.

I stopped for food and water every half hour, really making sure I was getting eight to 12 ounces of water with an electrolyte mix.

The Banner: You said you asked people to tell jokes during these feeds. What kind of jokes did they make?

Pumphrey: The crew made a lot of, like, bay jokes, you know, like “go bae.” There were a few jokes about Old Bay. A lot of puns. One joke I told everyone, and they all laughed like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard, which was hilarious and made me feel good, but it was: what do you call a nosy pepper?

The Banner: (silence)

Pumphrey: Jalapeno business.

I see it’s a terrible joke, but it’s silly.

Katie Pumphrey is illuminated by glow sticks as she takes some of her first strokes into her 24 mile journey. (Kaitlin Newman/Kaitlin Newman)

The Banner: Can you tell me about how you were eating?

Pumphrey: It’s a sports gel pack that has about 100 calories. I had three flavors that that my team was rotating, and sometimes I requested a specific flavor depending on the mood. I had a cold-brew flavor, which, especially in the beginning of the swim, was nice, because it kind of felt like coffee.

I have a cola flavor, which I really like, especially they put those GUs [the brand] in the cooler at some point, and then so they were a little chill. And s’mores flavor, which is my favorite.

The Banner: How many calories are you trying to intake? Because I know that you’re obviously burning a lot of calories, so how are you compensating for that?

Pumphrey: I think generally it tends to be like eight to 12 ounces of water with either a protein carb mix in it. Calories wise, it’s like 400 calories an hour.

Katie Pumphrey's swim from Sandy Point State Park at the foot of the Bay Bridge to Baltimore's Inner Harbor began in darkness on June 25, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The Banner: And how many hours did you sleep last night?

Pumphrey: Not as long as I would have liked. I struggled to fall asleep. My body is definitely yelling at me a lot, with pain, discomfort, soreness, sunburn, chafing, a lot of things have opinions right now in my body. So I struggled to fall asleep. Once I slept, I slept really well and really hard, but falling asleep is also a little tricky, because I still feel like I’m swaying in the water.

Then I woke up at like 5:30 a.m. because it just felt like my body was standing off an alarm bell: “What did you just do to me?”

So, I took ibuprofen. I laid in bed, I snuggled with my dogs and FaceTimed my sister this morning, which was really nice. I’ve been taking it easy all day. Before the swim, I finished “Madam Secretary.” I finished it probably Saturday night, but then Sunday and Monday, I didn’t want to, like, get into a new show or anything. So, I just started it over. So, I watched the “Madam Secretary” today.

The Banner: I was going to ask, what is recovery going to look like? What are you doing to reward yourself?

Pumphrey: I have physical therapy with Mary Miller at True Sports, so I’ll actually go to their Locust Point location tomorrow. Recovery is as much rest and sleep and lotion as possible, dealing with sunburn. I absolutely want to celebrate this for a long time.

Distance swimmer Katie Pumphrey and her crew of supporters laugh with joy as they look on at all the supporters and spectators that came to great them. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Distance swimmer Katie Pumphrey said after her historic swim, "I absolutely want to celebrate this for a long time." (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)