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Imagine swimming a one-mile race. Now imagine swimming a one-mile race in open water. Now imagine swimming a one-mile, open-water race using only the butterfly stroke.

Now you’ve got a better feel for Larry Paulson and Charlie Tupitza, two bold men with even bolder swim strokes. Paulson, a 65-year-old Herndon resident, and Tupitza, a 59-year-old Warrenton resident, completed Sunday’s one-mile swim in Reston’s Lake Audubon using only the butterfly, the third straight year they’ve pulled off the feat.

It was all part of the 27th Annual Jim McDonnell Lake Swim, an event put on every year by the Reston Masters Swim Team, whose 130-odd members range from ages 18 to 80. A contingent of about 60 volunteers teamed up with the fire department to host 919 swimmers over the weekend, which featured a clinic and one-mile swim on Saturday and the big one- and two-mile races on Sunday.

While Sunday’s 663 other swimmers glided through calm waters with the traditional freestyle stroke, Paulson and Tupitza powered through the morning’s race with an energy-intensive stroke normally employed for short sprints.

“After a while you’re kind of like, ‘How many times can you swim a freestyle?’” said Tupitza, a cybersecurity marketer for AXELOS Global Best Practices. “We’re trying to encourage people to do other things.”

Tupitza, a member of the U.S. Masters Swimming Championship Committee, helps run Butterfly Is Not a Crime, a national group intended to inspire people of all ages to swim various distance races using the butterfly. Sunday’s feat marked the first sanctioned butterfly open-water swim, putting Tupitza (33 minutes, 35 seconds) and Paulson (35:52) in the record books.

Recalling the origins of the kooky idea, Paulson remembers attending an RMST meet a few years ago and noticing one guy in the 1000-meter race swimming the butterfly.

“I said if you’re going to do it, I’ll do it too,” said Paulson, the Jim McDonnell Lake Swim Director. “Then the rumor got around the club, and everybody was asking me about it, so pretty soon I couldn’t back out of it.”

Paulson’s initial trepidation was understandable. The longest Olympic-sanctioned butterfly event is 200 meters. One mile is just over 1600 meters.

“It’s more mental,” Tupitza said. “It’s a physical thing too, but once you get your technique down it’s really a matter of endurance and just getting through the mental walls because a couple times in there you feel like quitting.”

Tupitza and Paulson aren’t getting any younger, but they’re also not getting much slower.

“My strokes have gotten better,” Paulson said. “There’s a certain rhythm to butterfly. Once you get in a rhythm you can get more relaxed. The first couple times I did it I was like, ‘What am I doing out here? Is this ever going to be over?’ But you get used to it.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com