Difficult swim

Bridget Simpson of Ticonderoga swims north through the waters of Lake George earlier this month. At 49, she is believed to be among the oldest people to complete the swim from the village of Lake George to Ticonderoga.

Courtesy photo

LAKE GEORGE — Bridget Simpson of Ticonderoga recently joined a select group of people who swam the length of Lake George.

And Simpson believes she is currently the oldest to accomplish that feat at 49, according to her calculations of the ages of the 10 people to accomplish the feat on the Marathon Swimmers Federation website.

Diane Struble was the first to swim Lake George — recording a time of 35 1/2 hours in 1958.

There have been nine instances since then that have been documented by the Federation.

David Dammerman of Saratoga Springs set the record in 2016 with a time of 18 hours, 54 minutes, 22 seconds.

Simpson said she has done masters open water swimming since 1999 and has swum in lakes, rivers and the ocean. She has been swimming in Lake George since moving to Ticonderoga in 2014.

“Last year, I had been thinking about doing a long swim somewhere, and there are formal events all over the world, but Lake George is practically in my backyard,” she said.

Simpson compares swimming to flying.

“It’s easy in the water. I’ve had some back problems over the years, so being in the water is always a pain-free zone. It’s where I can maximize mobility and keep going,” she said.

She said swimming in Lake George is a treat.

“I swim during a sunrise, sunset, daytime, nighttime, fall foliage. It’s just a pretty place to be,” she said.

She had tried the Hague Open Water series event but missed the cutoff for starting the final lap. She said she was not focused because she was enjoying the scenery. She stepped up her training and competed in the 1,500-meter “Sharkfest” swim in Boston Harbor, where she placed third in her category of women ages 45 to 49 and non-wetsuit. She said that gave her hope to continue training to swim Lake George.

“I kept swimming in the lake until just before Halloween, when the water dipped to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, giving me a bit of confidence that I could handle the notorious cold spots of the lake,” she said.

Simpson said she started serious pool training in 2017 and logged 576 in practice miles in Lake George and the Vermont Sun pool in Middlebury.

She started her swim at 9 p.m. Aug. 8 from the Lake George village docks and arrived at Diane’s Rock in Ticonderoga just after 1 a.m. Aug. 10. She said she was fortunate to only have a 15-minute squall on the afternoon of Aug. 9.

Simpson said she had a fabulous crew that helped make the swim possible. She was flanked on the right by a paddler and on the left by a motorboat.

Jim Beaty of Hague traveled alongside Simpson in his boat. Tom Cunningham helped serve as backup pilot and helped keep the written record. Kayaker Janet Lawrence also served as a backup pilot.

The kayaker helped bring her food and water when needed. The kayak also had supplies including spare goggles, nose clips and aspirin or ibuprofen, according to Simpson.

Her son, Quinn Simpson, helped track the swim using his iPhone and a tracking website at the Marathon Swimmers Federation. Quinn was in the kayak for the entire swim.

Simpson said the most difficult part of the swim was the drop in lake temperature.

“The first night was fine, and the moonlit sky and landscape were fabulous, but when the sunrise didn’t bring a feeling of increased warmth (or at least decreased chill), I started imagining kettles of soup, and I don’t often groove on soup,” she said.

Jim Cunningham joined the swim in his canoe in the Hague area. He brought a much-needed supply of chicken noodle soup.

Simpson survived on liquid meal products, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches and protein bars.

She also thanked SwimBikeRun in Ticonderoga, where she helped work out, and Marsha LaPointe, who was the first kayaker to take her on a training swim.

Simpson was swimming for Hannah’s Hope Fund. The organizaton raises money for treatment and cure of giant axonal neuropathy (GAN), which is a disease that affects the central nervous system. Lori and Matt Sames of Rexford founded the organization after their youngest daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with the disease in March 2008. Simpson said one of her cousins brought the charity to her attention.

Simpson said thinking about Hannah and her family helped get her through difficult parts of the swim.

“As a mother, I know that when I have a sick child, I want to focus on taking care of that child, not starting a foundation and global network of families and research specialists,” she said.

Clinical drug trials started last summer, according to Simpson. She hoped to spread more awareness about the disease. She raised $420, according to her My Reason to Race website.

“Several very generous people pledged their support of GAN, but my fundraising was a drop in the bucket of what a foundation needs to bring about research,” she said.

Simpson said she is grateful for the support.

“I am still hearing about people going from location to location, tracking my progress, trying to see where I was — cheering from docks, the beach, Snug Harbor Marina,” she said.

Simpson did not rest on her laurels. She participated in the Betsy Owens Memorial Swim with the U.S. Masters in Lake Placid. She is going to try the 10K competition again in Hague on Saturday.

“I hope that the mental preparation for Lake George serves me well and I get to finish,” she said, referring to the Hague swim. “I can live with a bad weather day slowing me down, but don’t want to miss my mark due to carelessness,” she said.

She is looking for more long swims, but probably not 24 hours.

Simpson pointed out that she is not much older than the other solo swimmers of Lake George, and she looked forward to seeing who would try for the record next.

“I will be 50 in October, and there are some marathon swimmers much more senior than I,” she said. “Ever since I started open water swimming, some of my best training partners have been in their 60s through 80s. My expectation of how I will get older is shaped by their spirit and enthusiasm.”

You can read Michael Goot’s blog, “A Time to Learn,” at www.poststar.com or his updates on Twitter @ps_education.


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