Swimmers Welcome the New Year With 10K Swim at Thorbeckes in Centralia


Sixteen swimmers of different ages and abilities were welcomed at Thorbeckes in Centralia Saturday for the fourth New Year’s 10K Swim. 

Swimmers participated in the 10-kilometer swim that began around 9 a.m. and ended around 1 p.m. Saturday, marking the first time the event was held since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The event helps support the Lewis County Animal Shelter. 

During the event, participants swam one of three distances during a two-minute interval. After each interval, swimmers received a break before swimming another interval, continuing for a total of 100 intervals. 

This year’s event included three groups. The first group swam 50-meter intervals, or two legs of the pool, for a total distance of 5,000 meters. The second group swam 75 meters, or three legs, for a total distance of 7,500 meters. The third group swam 100-meter intervals, or four legs, for a final distance of 10,000 meters. 

The event was organized by Erin McPeak, who based the swim on similar events she was a part of in Indiana, where she lived before moving to Centralia to be closer to her parents. 

According to Erin McPeak, who works as a physician’s assistant, planning for the event took several months.

“The first year, Jan. 1, 2018, I started preparing six months ahead in (the) summer. A lot of this stuff had to be created, and I made it,” Erin McPeak said.

Now that she has experience organizing the event, Erin McPeak said she starts preparations in September when she contacts Thorbeckes. Her goal is to have announcements for the event sent out to swimmers by November. In December, she started making posters for the event. On Wednesday, Dec. 28, she and her family began grocery shopping to buy the food they served to the swimmers after the swim. Friday was filled with cooking and setting up. 

According to Erin McPeak’s mom, Donna McPeak, some of them were setting up at Thorbeckes late into the night on Dec. 30, with Erin McPeak getting up at 3 a.m. the day of the event to get ready. 

“I need all their help to pull it off,” Erin McPeak said, referring to her family. 

Many people who come to Erin McPeak’s event do so because of its uniqueness. Unlike similar events, Erin McPeak makes decorations and serves food after the swimmers are finished.

“Other places that do 10Ks don’t do food afterwards, or decorations,” Erin McPeak said. “We have people who came last night and stayed in a hotel. They make friends. I wanted to add something where they had something when they went home. Do they come for the sim or the food? It’s the package they come for.”

Swimmers who participate in the event also get a cookie with their name and a swim cap handmade by Erin McPeak’s father, Pat McPeak. 

To help cover the costs of participation, swimmers pay a fee of $62, which includes the cost of a T-shirt. Non-Thorbeckes members also pay an additional $10 fee to use the pool. 

Turnout for the event was below the 25 to 35 swimmers Erin McPeak said they had seen in the past, though the 16 participants was higher then they had expected, citing COVID-19 as a reason for the reduced number of swimmers. One swimmer had to drop out the day before the swim after contracting COVID-19. She said since the COVID-19 pandemic began several past participants moved away while others weren’t comfortable being in a pool with others yet. 

Some had started only doing outdoor swimming while others had stopped swimming all together. While in the past Erin McPeak has participated in the swim herself, this year she was prevented from swimming while she recovers from bronchitis. 

Participants came from all around the region, with many praising the event.

Guila Muir, a 67-year-old Seattle resident, swam the 5K after previously participating in the event in 2020. 

“I’m an open water swimmer, so the idea of doing a 5,000 (meter swim) in a pool with other people to celebrate the New Year sounded like the best thing ever,” Muir said. 

Jessi Gable, a 40-year-old Chehalis resident, has participated in all four of the 10K Swim events. 

“I swim with the masters group here,” Gable said. “It's a nice way to kick off the New Year.”

Kelly Jensen, a 39-year-old from Belfair, swam in the Centralia event for the first time. 

“I compete 10K-plus open water, which is hard to find in winter, so I thought this was a good idea. And I like a well organized event and this is a very organized event,” Jensen said. 

Neal Kirby, a 70-year-old former Centralia school principal and school board member, said he swam the 5K to help with his training for mountain climbing. 

“I swim regularly and it’s all part of a workout routine. I do all of those to enhance my mountain climbing,” said Kirby, who climbed all five of Washington’s volcanoes last year and is going to Guatemala next month for more climbing. “I’ve just been blessed with good health to be able to do this.” 

Dan Underbrink, a 66-year-old Kirkland resident, swam the 10K.

“Erin is on my team and on my board of directors and she was putting on this event so I was supporting her,” Dan Underbrink said. “I’ve done this event a couple times before, so it’s really fun. It’s always a good event, a good way to close out the year and bring in the New Year.” 

Mary Underbrink, 63, was participating for the first time, joining her husband Dan in the swim.

“I loved it. It’s so well run. Erin put her heart into it. It’s well organized,” Mary Underbrink said. “Best part’s the food though. I can’t believe they made all this stuff.”  

Valerie Thompson, a 70-year-old Olympia resident and Army veteran, was participating in the event for the fourth time. 

“Erin is on our team, so I wanted to support her. It’s also supporting the Lewis County Animal Shelter … I think that’s pretty cool,” Thompson said. 

Vic Pace, a 60-year-old Olympia resident, doesn’t swim in the event but helped Erin McPeak run it while his wife, Valerie Thompson, swam.

“My wife is the jock and I’m the jock supporter,” Pace said. “My favorite part is the camaraderie, they have a great time.”

Eric Durban, a 67-year-old Maple Valley resident, said he had participated in the event before and thought it was a lot of fun.

“(This event) helped me get over 800 miles for the year for swimming,” Durban said, later adding he was signed up to swim the English Channel this upcoming summer. 

Jason Knispel, a 53-year-old Chehalis resident, met Erin through swimming and enjoys participating in the event. 

“I enjoy helping Erin get this thing going, helping people be healthy,” Knispel said, who serves as the head lifeguard at Thorbeckes. 

Erin McPeak expressed her gratitude for everyone who helped her make the event possible. 

“I am so grateful for the swimming community throughout the many decades that I have been a competitive swimmer and the 10K is my way to be able to give back. My family and I enjoy helping others reach their goals, build camaraderie amongst the swimmers, and the swimmers feel positive about themselves when they achieve their goal,” she said. 

Erin McPeak said she wanted to thank her mom and dad, her brother Sean McPeak, Knispel and Pace for their help, telling The Chronicle they were “integral in helping me coordinate and organize the 10K.” She also thanked Thorbeckes for letting her host the swim at its pool and  Karie from Totally Therapeutic Massage and Rehab for offering post-event massages to the swimmers.