13-year old becomes youngest to complete Tahoe’s ‘Godfather’ swim

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — James Savage’s Facebook page says, “Dehydrates if left out of water too long,” and that seems apt.

On Thursday, July 30, at 13-years-old, Savage became the youngest person to complete the 12-mile true width swim, also known as, the “Godfather” swim from Cave Rock to the Godfather Mansion in Homewood.

How it started

Savage’s older brother was on the recreation club swim team in Los Banos, Calif. and when Savage turned 5, his mom, Jillian asked if he wanted to join too. He said no.

She finally convinced him to join but he said he refused to swim backstroke or butterfly. She didn’t care if he did or not but after trying them, he ended up breaking the country record for both.

His brother eventually quit the team but Savage continued on, asking his mom if he could swim year-round, not just during the summer swim season. Four months later he went to the Junior Olympics.

Then, when he turned eight, Savage saw a commercial for Alcatraz and decided that not only did he want to start open-water swimming but that he wanted to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

“When he said he wanted to do open-water, I freaked out, I’ll be honest,” Jillian Savage said. “When your 8-year-old says, ‘I want to swim from Alcatraz’ how many people say, ‘yes?”

Once he got in the open-water, he never looked back.

“I like open water more because you get to explore more places,” James Savage said. “You can explore other pools but all pools are pretty much the same, it’s a blue line you’re looking at at the bottom but open water you get to explore places like Tahoe and other different kinds of clear waters and oceans.”

He’s completed several open-water swims and has many more he wants to check off.

“Most mornings it’s him waking us up saying, ‘Let’s go to the lake, let’s go swim,’ and i just want my coffee and there’s plenty of times where I’ve been in my pajamas in my kayak balancing coffee between my knees trying to keep up with him,” Jillian Savage said. “But there’s a lot of things a 13-year-old could be doing and I will gladly go out there with him every day if it keeps him out of trouble.”

The swim

The morning of his swim, the Savages woke up at 1 a.m. and ate pancakes. They arrived at Cave Rock at 3:45 a.m. and he was in the water by 4:30 a.m.

James said he felt good until around miles 4 and 5 when he started swimming noticeably slower.

“That’s because I wasn’t feeding a lot so once I started eating more, I started picking up my speed,” Jame Savage said.

He said his support boat really helped him at that point. The support boat consisted of his mom and dad, Captain Tom Linthicum and his training partner/official observer Meg Omainsky.

While his first goal was to be the youngest person to complete the swim, his secondary goal was to finish between six and seven hours. His finish time was six hours and 59 minutes, completing both of his goals.

After he finished they went to Bert’s Cafe, he took an hour long nap then he rode bikes until 10 p.m. This is a reminder that even with his major accomplishments, he’s still a 13-year-old that likes to do, “normal kid stuff,” as he puts it.

James’ goal is to be the youngest person to complete the Tahoe Triple Crown, a record currently held by a 15-year-old.

Last year, James completed the first swim, the 10.5-mile Vikingsholm Swim from Cave Rock to Emerald Bay.

With the completion of the Godfather swim, the only one left is the 21.3 mile length swim. He plans to complete the swim that starts at Camp Richardson and ends at the Hyatt Regency beach in Incline Village next summer at the age of 14.

To keep up-to-date on James’ swims, follow him at

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