‘It makes me feel so alive’: Brackett’s Landing Mermaids live to swim

The Brackett’s Landing Mermaids get set to dive in. From left — Miciah Marzano, Erinn Zavaglia, “Mermaid Mother” Mary Sue Balazic, Vicki Weeks, Rachel Brackett. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

They’re out there almost every day, drawn together by a passion for open-water swimming and the special joys it brings.

OK, it’s not for everybody. The water is cold, and at least lately the air has been even colder.

But these intrepid women are the real deal – and you’ve got to believe that their veins pump salt water. Some wear wet suits, but others eschew them in pursuit of the “pure” open-water experience. Many have been swimming all their lives and have come to depend on regular swimming to keep on a stable physical and mental keel.

Erinn Zavaglia offers a high five, while Miciah Marzano looks on. (Photo courtesy Brackett’s Landing Mermaids)

“It just makes me feel so alive,” said swimmer Rachel Brackett (no relation to Edmonds’ founder George Brackett). “Open-water swimming makes me feel at one with nature, the beauty and the sea life.”

Fairly new to the group, Rachel lives in Seattle and was swimming at Green Lake two to three times a week through the fall and winter. Then she found the 300-member-strong Western Washington Open Water Swimmers group on Facebook (of which the Brackett’s Landing Mermaids are an informal offshoot), and dove right in.

The Facebook group is moderated by “Mermaid Mother” Mary Sue Balazic, who serves as something of a mentor for group members.

Mary Sue Balazic pops up for a quick photo, with other group members in the background. (Photo courtesy Brackett’s Landing Mermaids)

“It’s so nice to be in the water with others,” Mary Sue explains.  “I love taking newbies out. They’re often scared at first, and it’s so satisfying when I see that fear turn to euphoria.  It’s just amazing. Running this group is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.”

But there are more great things in Mary Sue’s future – this year she plans to be part of the Round the Island swim that circles Coronado Island, and follow that up with being part of a relay team that will take on the English Channel.

Group member Miciah Marzano grew up swimming.

Before moving to Puget Sound country, Miciah lived in Florida and “swam every day.” After coming here, she at first found the cold water a bit intimidating — but the last straw was when COVID shut the pools.

Members find joy in open-water swimming. (Photo courtesy Brackett’s Landing Mermaids)

“Swimming has always been part of my life,” she explains. “I simply need to swim; it’s just who I am.”

Vicki Weeks grew up in West Seattle and spent her childhood swimming in Puget Sound off Alki.

“Water is my happy place,” she says. “But I really don’t like pools. I live near Green Lake now and swim there occasionally in the summer. But nothing beats the experience of real Puget Sound saltwater.”

Edmonds native and Edmonds-Woodway High School grad Erinn Zavaglia tells a similar story.

“Swimming is my stress release. I was using various indoor pools, but when COVID shut them down and I lost this, it was really tough,” she relates. “Then I found the Facebook group, joined and posted, and Mary Sue got back to me right away.”

A side benefit for Erinn is the relief open-water swimming provides from persistent headaches she experiences as the result of a concussion.

A mermaid snow sculpture — the work of Erinn Zavaglia and her partner — honors the intrepid women of the Brackett’s Landing Mermaids.

And while this week’s snow didn’t’ even come close to keeping the mermaids out of the water, it did provide an opportunity to express their love of open-water swimming with some very creative snow sculptures, most of which – sadly – are now melting.

— By Larry Vogel

    1. Hello! You can reach out to the Facebook Group, Western Washington Open Water Swimmers, or the group that swims in that particular area (also on Facebook), North Sound Swimmers. They’re wonderful, welcoming, friendly, and swimmy. You’ll have a great time!

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