LOCALadk Magazine

LOCALadk Spring 21

LOCALadk Magazine

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LOCALadk 35 summer, she has been invited to join a team of eight swimmers from eight different countries who will cross Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake. With her extensive knowledge of the sport and characteristic red lipstick—an homage to Esther Williams, the glamorous competitive swimmer and film star, she's also inspired by Lynne Cox and Gertrude Ederle, and sees Diane Struble as a bridge to those swimmers and the champions of today. "I was the third female to swim Lake George. I wanted to be part of the tradition." For years, women have been grappling with how sports might adversely affect childbearing and physical health, given Victorian standards of decency in clothing, and sports allowable for women in the presence of a male audience. Swimming was not one of these. In 1904, the General Slocum le Manhattan with 1,350 passengers—mostly women and children—onboard. As it worked its way up the East River, a fire broke out, and more than 1,000 passengers who couldn't swim drowned, making it New York City's worst disaster until 9/11. e catastrophe drove politicians and school administrators to recognize the need for teaching children how to swim, but still, girls were kept out of the water due to issues of modesty. Understandably, women had resisted learning because "acceptable" bathing costumes were made of wool or flannel, and included tights, knee-length bloomers, a blouse, a belt, a full skirt, and heavy shoes or swimming boots. In 1926, wearing the first two-piece bathing suit, Gertrude Ederle, who was deaf, became the first woman to swim the English Channel, considered the ultimate test of a person's physical capabilities against nature. Smashing the men's record by more than two hours, she proved that women could perform incredibly strenuous activities on par with them. "When Mom was a young teenager, she read about the female English Channel swimmers in the 1920s," notes Struble's daughter, Gwenne Rippon, in her book Called by the Water: When Diane Struble Swam Lake George. "eir stories inspired her to want to do something like that herself—something no one else had done before." Jennifer Dutton completed her nonstop solo of Lake George in 2016. "It's such a majestic piece of water. I wanted to see if I could do it," she says. "With the lingering effects of multiple head injuries, I can get seasick, but in the long and narrow sections, I feel much better." Seeing swimming as a way to forge an identity and build a social life, Dutton completed her first 10-mile swim while still a teenager. Aer suffering a severe brain injury due to a cycling accident during her first week of college orientation, she struggled with depression, and was unable to read or write well. Dutton gave up swimming, but returned years later, realizing she could still manage distances, and finding the repetitive motion soothing. Since then, she's completed the Boston Light six times and Kingdom Swims seven times, and holds firsts for Keuka Lake (34.9 miles), Great Sacandaga Lake (33 miles), and Torch Lake in Michigan (19 miles), amongst other swimming achievements. "My body has been sort of a battleground for me, literally and figuratively, and swimming is a way that I can truly own it. When I swim or do anything extremely long, I have no choice but to be present in the moment; I can only react instinctively, and any other stuff—body dysmorphia, societal standards of 'athleticism' and what it means to be an athlete, eating dysfunction, muscle memory of trauma, PTSD—are inconsequential when the only question is whether to keep moving or stop. e internal chatter pretty much shuts up aer a few hours in the water." Ultramarathon swimming is one of the most challenging athletic endeavors there is. It requires: 1) staying warm in a simple fabric swimsuit while submerged for multiple hours, 2) handling waves and wind that push you around, potentially adding hours to your swim, 3) staring into darkness face-down and attempting to stay warm as temperatures drop in the evening, 4) tolerating changes in blood pressure, creatures, and ingesting a lot of (salt) water, 5) accepting liquid nourishment in a bottle, thrown to you from a support boat, and 6) spending hours alone with your thoughts. is is not a sport for the faint of heart. Inaugural swims are a part of the history and culture of ultramarathon and open-water swimming, allowing talented athletes to take on new challenges, and motivating others to do the same. While preparing to participate in lectures on healthy aging and the aging brain, Dr. Kate O'Keeffe, a retired Glens Falls OB-GYN, came up with the "Menopause Marathon" during the summer of 2020. She and seven other women, aged 55-71, each swam part of the relay covering the length of the lake. "I grew up pre-Title IX, and girls didn't have gym. We never played or learned organized sports. We were told how to sit and walk," she recalls. She's been a member of the Estrogen Club for 25 years, women who meet Mondays to ski, swim, hike, or kayak. "ere's a huge amount of medical data about how exercise raises serotonin levels equivalent to taking Prozac, but so much better for you. And swimming in the lake, with loons floating by and the sun coming over the mountains, is very therapeutic." O'Keeffe was surprised at the response that they received. "I thought that we'd finish and I'd just have a hamburger, but I heard from a lot of older women saying how inspired they were." Preconceived notions about both the perfect body and age have plagued women's sports and the cultural landscape for years. While more curvaceous and full-figured shapes were the accepted standard through the 1950s, an ongoing emphasis on thinness and weight-loss has been damaging to women's physical and mental health. And those with age issues need only consider last year's remarkable nonstop Lake George solo by 54-year- old Charlotte Brynn, where, as the oldest person on record, she bested the previous time by almost an hour. Growing up in New Zealand, less than a mile from the beach, Brynn swam daily from a very young age—it was part of the school curriculum—and also participated in triathlons and New Zealand Alpine Ironman Races. With sixty-five marathon swims to her name, including two ice miles, she shows no signs of stopping. "It's like a spiritual experience. How oen do you have eighteen hours with yourself and your own thoughts?" Praising five-time Olympian Dara Torres (at 41, the oldest swimmer on the Olympic team) as one of her heroes, Brynn serves as Executive Director of e Swimming Hole in Stowe, Vermont, and considers Lake George her favorite place to swim. "It's beautiful, and larger than a lot of marathons, and it's quite a sneaky little lake, unpredictable with weather changes. It's also a privilege to go on the same course as Diane Struble," she says. "And being a Kiwi, there's not a whole lot of fear. I just give it a go." Struble would have appreciated Brynn's

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