Swimmer Ian Grimmer goes the distance
LAKE MEMPHREMAGOG, Vermont/Quebec — When Middlebury resident Ian Grimmer stepped into the waters of Lake Memphremagog in Newport earlier this month he knew he wouldn’t be on dry land again for quite a while — more than a dozen hours. But such a long period being wet was nothing new to the 53-year-old.
And in this still water lake he would not have battle the waves and tides that the experienced open water swimmer faced earlier this summer when he swam around the entire island of Manhattan.
This past June 15, Grimmer completed the 20 Bridges swim, an arduous 28.5-mile circumnavigation of the principal island of New York City. That followed his successful 20.5-mile crossing of the English Channel (England to France) in 2019, and his 20-mile swim from Catalina Island to the mainland of Southern California in 2018.
Those three swims earned Grimmer the title of Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
Nevertheless, Grimmer’s participation in the Aug. 1 swim known as “In Search of Memphre” (that’s the mythical sea creature),” was only six weeks after the arduous 20 Bridges accomplishment, and it stretched 25 miles across an international border from Newport to Magog, Quebec.
The Search is organized by Kingdom Games and the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association in in an effort to advocate for a more open border with Canada, to raise funds in support of the Indoor Recreation Center of Orleans County, which provides critically needed health and wellness services for people at risk, such as those suffering from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Marketing materials say another goal is to “seek the elusive, swimmer-friendly lake creature, Memphre,” the famed mythical creature of Lake Memphremagog.
The swim was a long time coming for Grimmer and the other swimmers.
“This was a swim that I was scheduled to complete in August 2020, but it was pushed back for two consecutive years because of the pandemic and the U.S./Canadian border being closed,” Grimmer told the Independent.
An inductee in Vermont’s Open Water Swimming Hall of Fame, Grimmer entered the waters of Memphremagog at the EastSide restaurant in Newport at 12:25 a.m. He swam at a pace of approximately 1.5-2 mph, but it dropped below 1.5 mph and approached 1 mph at times during the final five miles of the swim.
He cleared the beach at Plage de Magog at 5:21 p.m., for an elapsed time of 16 hours and 56 minutes. He became the 41st amateur swimmer to swim the length of Lake Memphremagog.
“My favorite moment was watching the sun come up over the lake when I was about four-and-a-half hours into the swim. It really evoked a feeling of hope and gave me renewed energy knowing that I had passed through a difficult part of the swim where I was swimming in the darkness,” Grimmer said.
Water temperatures during the Memphremagog swim lingered in the mid-70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the event. Air temperature was 62 degrees when Grimmer started and rose to the high-70s in the afternoon. A southwest tailwind blew at 2 to 10 mph during most of the swim, which was conducted in compliance with traditional channel crossing rules as published by Marathon Swimmers Federation. It has been ratified by the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association.
Piloting the escort boat, named Sweet Pea, was Rob Andersen, of Newport and Nantucket, Mass. Hyde Park resident Paula Yankaukas and fellow Triple Crown swimmer who completed The Search in 2014, crewed for Grimmer as well, along with Teresa Gerade of Newport.
“I had an amazing support crew. Paula Yankaukas, who is a very accomplished marathon swimmer, has also completed this same swim in the past. Marathon swimming really is a team sport, and her calm and steady presence on the boat played a huge role in this swim being successful,” Grimmer said.
While Grimmer makes it look easy as a Triple Crowner, he went through arduous training and some physical pain to get to Magog.
“I did my training at Vermont Sun in Middlebury and tried to swim the overall distance (25 miles) over the course of a week, with back-to-back long swims on the weekends,” Grimmer said. “The hardest part was working with the pain I was experiencing in my right shoulder — especially in the last five miles — but it ended up being manageable, and I was really happy to make it through to the end.”
Who knows how fast he could have gone without the shoulder pain? Grimmer completed the longer swim around Manhattan in 8 hours, 58 minutes. In his shorter ocean-going swims he crossed the English Channel in 13 hours, 58 minutes and the Catalina Channel in 14 hours, 22 minutes.
Grimmer began open water swimming with the one-mile distance at Kingdom Swim in a wetsuit in 2009. He returned in 2016, swimming the 25-kilometer Border Buster at Kingdom Swim in 10 hours, 42 minutes, and the 5-mile crossing of Lake Willoughby in 2 hours, 26 minutes. He has also participated in the Cork Distance Week in Ireland in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022, as well as the Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival in Vermont in 2018 and 2019.
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