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SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS - 第105回「ニューヨークの懐」

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投稿日時: 2010-06-17 19:57:13

 ニューヨーク(NY)には無数に参加型スポーツイベントがあるのだが、その内容や大きさは様々。参加者4万人を超えるNYマラソンは世界最大規模だし、「Five Boro Bike Tour」という自転車イベントも3万人を超える。近年では「NY Triathlon」がすごい人気で、約3000人の枠が5時間でいっぱいになるとか。またエンパイア・ステート・ビルを駆けのぼるようなちょっと変わった大会もある。その中で参加者100人にも満たないのに、やたらとスケールの大きなイベントが「Manhattan Island Marathon swim」。そう、あのマンハッタン島を泳いで1周しようというものだ。
(写真:マンハッタンの真ん中を泳ぐ)

 NYやその周辺はいくつもの島で構成されており、マンハッタン島もそのひとつ。周囲45Km程の島に160万人を超える人が住み、370万人が働いている。経済からエンターテインメントまで世界の中心地といってもいいほどの場所だ。島の周りには2本の川が流れており、それぞれが人々の生活に密接にかかわり、マンハッタンの景色と文化を彩っている。そんなニューヨーカーの憩いの場でもある水辺も、1970年代は都会につきものの環境汚染がひどく、異臭を放っていたそうだ。しかし、現在では対策が進み、魚を釣って食べることもできるとか。治安と共にこの島の環境は確実に改善されている。

 だからといって泳ぐ必要はないと思うのだが、山があれば登りたくなり、水があると泳ぎたくなるのは人間の性か。ともあれ、1983年にこの島を泳いで1周しようと行動し始めたのが ドリュー・ギャラガー氏。水質汚染の心配もさることながら、マンハッタン周辺は交通の要所になっているところが多く、航行する船との問題、安全対策など多くの課題があった。彼は現在の運営団体「NYCS」の前身となる「Manhattan Island Swimming Association 」を設立、数々のチャリティー活動を行いながら、これらの課題をひとつずつクリアしていき、20年前にとうとう大会として成立させてしまったのだ。
(写真:ギャラガー氏(左端)と、筆者(中央)らジャパンチャレンジチーム)

 せっかくできた大会なのだが、他交通と泳者の安全確保のため1泳者に1隻のボートと1隻のカヤックが付くという体制で行われる。当然、多くの参加者が泳ぐことができない。毎回、最大40人程度しか受け入れられないという状態だ。今回も28名の個人と、12のリレーチームしか出場できなかった。そのため、申し込みを困難は極め、参加メンバーの過去の実績はもちろん、「なぜこのレースに出たいのか」というレポートによる書類審査が行われる。さらにその受付はたった1時間しか行われないという狭き門。48Kmという距離を泳ぐ前に、もっとも難しいのは参加資格を取ることだろう。
(写真:カヤックに付き添われて泳ぐ選手たち)

 また、この団体の運営はすべてボランティアで成り立っており、スタッフはもちろん、エスコートのボートやカヤックでさえもボランティアで大会をサポートする。カヤックのレンタルを自費で行ってでも、選手のサポートをしてくれるカヤッカーがいるというのだから感心させられる。そんな彼らの本業を聞くと、NYらしく金融関係だったり、弁護士だったりと社会的なポジションを確立している人も多い。生活の安定が確保されたなら、次は社会奉仕活動を行うというのはこちらのスタンダードのようで、これは我々日本人が見習う点なのかもしれない。

 そんな大会に、今年、私は幸運にも日本チームとして初めて参加資格を獲得し、出場することができた。スタテンアイランド行きフェリーが出港し、自由の女神を眼前に臨むバッテリーパークにあるハーバーを7時25分にスタート。反時計回りにマンハッタン島を回って1周の48km。フェリー乗り場を横切り、イーストリバーに入って、NYのシンボル「ブルックリン・ブリッジ」の下を通る。このあたりはまさにマンハッタンの中心部。ここを泳ぐということがいかにすごいか。いや、ありえない話だ。残念ながら私は寒さに耐えることで精一杯で、多くの観光客が不思議そうに眺めるのを見る余裕はなかったが……。
(写真:奥に見えるのが自由の女神)

 その後は国連本部ビルの前を通って、ハーレムリバーに。このあたりまでくると流れもなくなり、少々水も滞っているのか臭いが鼻に付く。さらに突き進むとハドソン川に合流し、海のような大きな川を泳いでいく。すでに海が近く、味が塩水になっていくのを感じながら、ひたすら南下していくと、ダウンタウン、そしてスタートしたバッテリーパークが見えてくる。今回の最速タイムは7時間49分。流れはフォローだとはいえ、水温16度の中を8時間も泳ぐのはやさしいことではない。我々、日本チームもなんとか制限時間内にゴールにたどり着くことができた。
(写真:NY名物ブルックリン・ブリッジをくぐる)

 翌日、観光を兼ねて疲れた身体を引きずってエンパイア・ステート・ビルの展望台に。マンハッタンの全景と川を眺めながら、ここを泳げた幸せと、泳がせてくれたこの街とNYCSwimへの感謝の念を抱かずにいられなかった。常識を超える発想をする人がいて、それを受け入れてくれる街があり、サポートする人々がいる。この遊び心と懐の深さがある限り、この国のスポーツは、世界をリードし続けるのかもしれない。


白戸太朗(しらと・たろう)プロフィール
 スポーツナビゲーター&プロトライアスリート。日本人として最初にトライアスロンワールドカップを転戦し、その後はアイアンマン(ロングディスタンス)へ転向、息の長い活動を続ける。近年はアドベンチャーレースへも積極的に参加、世界中を転戦している。スカイパーフェクTV(J Sports)のレギュラーキャスターをつとめるなど、スポーツを多角的に説くナビゲータとして活躍中。08年11月、トライアスロンを国内に普及、発展させていくための新会社「株式会社アスロニア」の代表取締役に就任。最新刊『仕事ができる人はなぜトライアスロンに挑むのか!?』(マガジンハウス)が発売中。
>>白戸太朗オフィシャルサイト
>>株式会社アスロニア ホームページ


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