Featuring Bridget M.M. Simpson
September of 2018 marks nineteen years of my certification with AEA. 2018 also marks nineteen years that I have been an open water swimmer. In August of 2016, I started planning to swim the 32 mile length of Lake George, here in New York State. I live in Ticonderoga, and have been enjoying the local beach since buying my house here a few years ago. When I first considered the solo (meaning it I would swim alone, not be part of an event or race, but have boat support), I wasn’t sure how I would prepare for the miles, especially since the lakes around here freeze in the winter. I started to think about the first woman to do the swim back in 1958: Diane Struble likely didn't have access to winter swimming pools.
I worked out a plan including weights, running & walking, and hiking up and down Mt. Defiance (going up is 1.1 mile, and takes me about 20 minutes on a good day). I’d use my free Mondays to increase my activity time span- staying in motion during my daughter’s entire school day, and planning for up to 24 hours of motion by spring. I was able continue swimming into October until the water was 55F and the air temperatures were in the 40s. The fall foliage was stunning.
On December 5, I treated myself to a day pass at Vermont Sun Fitness in Middlebury. I had been a substitute aqua instructor for them in the past, so it was nice to see familiar faces, and let them know I still had enough flexibility to sub once in a while. I had a great swim, and on my way out, I got myself to a punchcard so I could come back on my Monday days off, and maybe a weekend morning now and then. Even a little winter swimming after over ten years without any was going to be great.
The drive home to New York took about 50 minutes. It was a lot of car time for even a few hours of swim time, but in light of my big goal, it was a worthwhile investment, at least a few times a month. When I got home, I had a phone message from the owner of Vermont Sun. Shelly said she needed a regular Monday aqua instructor for a long standing 8:30 class. My daughter goes to school at about 8:00, and Shelly was willing to move the class to 9:00 so I could teach. I was thrilled! I had missed teaching a regular class over the past few years, and it was for just this sort of opportunity that I had worked so hard to maintain my credentials. A benefit of this job is membership. There was potential for my one class a week to lead to more aqua classes and swim lessons, but for the next several months, my solo swim preparation was a priority.
On December 19, I taught my aqua class, then swam four miles. By April 14, I could swim 15 miles at a time. My muscles had worked hard, but largely because of the aqua fitness classes, and the aqua arthritis class I sometimes subbed for, I was able to put them through a full range of motion. Throughout my training, I was able to prevent the potential injuries and pain I might have been at risk for had I only been swimming.
Many of my participants are retired, and we talked about how I was going to be the oldest swimmer to swim the 32 miles of Lake George to date. I was turning 50 in October, 2017. We talked about many of the women of open water who were doing great things during the summer of 2017, and how the oldest woman to swim the English Channel had just done it at age 66. We talked a lot about putting age in perspective!
I started swimming the length of Lake George on August 8, 2017, at just past 9:00pm at the Lake George Village docks. I swam, with a boat and rotation of kayakers. My seven member support crew included my 24 year old son, two in their 50s, two in their 60s, and two in their 70s. All new to marathon swim support, and all ready to train and take it on. I swam for 28 hours and 6 minutes, until just past 1:00am on August 10. I used some stretches from class when I worked out leg cramps in the first hours of swimming, and I had very little stiffness in the subsequent days. My main physical impact was a week long case of jet lag, and an unusual hunger/satiety pattern. Maybe 28 hours of an abdominal workout doesn't let you hold your usual amount of food, no matter how hungry you feel before eating. I found myself sitting down to a sandwich with a great appetite, and only able to finish half.
Since cutting back on the intensity of my training through the winter, I have seen a weight gain, but I’m staying calm about it. I knew it was coming, and I know that as I gear up for another summer of marathon swimming, I will build my miles and impact my metabolism and body composition. Using exercise for weight loss or management is best when the exercise is something you take on as a lifestyle component, not just a means to a goal. Much as I would love to maintain my ability to log 20 miles a week year round, it is not an option right now. Maybe when I am in my 60s!
I love teaching aqua classes. The support and camaraderie is priceless. As important as time in a class or fitness center is, it is also important to take what you do there out into your life as an integrated routine of wellness. My aqua fit classes enhance my swimming, both in the pool and in the lake, but they also enhance my routine quality of life and wellness. Motions and postures I focus on in class get more attention throughout the day on land.
Since my swim, a common comment is, “I could never swim that far.” I always ask, “Do you want to?” You get to pick what you value, what you enjoy. I’m gearing up for another summer of marathon swimming, and I know that the time spent in class and preparing for class is time well spent- for any goal. Is there something you have always wanted to try? Now is your chance for your big adventure!
This article was reprinted with permission from AEA.