Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
American Myrtle Huddleston and Canadian Wayne Strach swam 75 years apart and had similar experiences in the middle of the night in the middle of their swims.
Five years after she learned how to swim, Myrtle Huddleston attempted the first widthwise crossing of Lake Tahoe in California.
During the Great Depression in 1931, the Tahoe Tavern Hotel offered US$700 (equal to US$11,000 today) to the first person who could completed a high-altitude swim across Lake Tahoe from Nevada to its hotel near Tahoe City.
Huddleston needed that money as a widow of a teenage boy. She decided to take up offer and earn some much needed cash.
Huddleston had previously attempted a crossing of the Catalina Channel in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon which she did not finish. But a month later in 1927, she took 20 hours 42 minutes to become the first woman to cross the Catalina Channel. In 1928, she won a race in Florida where she swam for more than 31 hours. A few months later, she swam 50 hours non-stop in a Chicago pool. Over the next two years, she did a number of additional swims before she failed at swimming across the English Channel.
But Huddleston’s most risky swim was her widthwise crossing of Lake Tahoe in 1931.
She enjoyed tranquil conditions for the first four hours on an August morning, but soon winds caused whitecaps to whip up across the lake. She was pushed well off course as her goggles leaked, she got nauseous, and pain shot through her arm.
16 hours into her attempt, the wind finally died down and a calm returned to Lake Tahoe. But in the middle of the night, Huddleston somehow got separated from her escort boat and got lost in the pitch darkness. Swimming alone, Huddleston kept swimming as she had no other choice in the middle of the lake.
Just before dawn as she had now been in the water for over 20 hours, she was found again. Her son was in the boat and pleaded with her to not give up. “Mother, hold fast. We are only two miles from shore.” She eventually swam her way to shore, 22 hours 53 minutes after starting.
But swimming aimlessly in the middle of the lake without an escort team at night has to horrifying at worst and intimidating at best.
61-year-old Canadian Wayne Strach founded himself in a similar situation in British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake.
Swimming alone, he abandoned his attempt to swim from British Columbia’s Vernon to Penticton in Okanagan Lake around 2:45 am yesterday morning. Somehow, Strach became separated from his escort crew a la Huddleston in Lake Tahoe.
Strach’s pre-determined safety plan covered a variety of scenarios. His Plan B included finding a landmark and swimming to shore if he got lost on the lake. According to his team, Strach found a cabin on the lakeshore and knocked on the door at 3 am attired with only his swimwear.
Leslie Strach described the situation. “The swim was well on it’s way and the support teams have been amazing for Wayne. Part of the safety process was to equip Wayne’s cap with a flashing strobe and glow sticks at night. Unfortunately, when he turned on his back to do backstroke, the strobe was not visible despite being very bright.
The boat was very close and immediately started calling out to him, but because his head was partially submerged, he could not hear them.
Once he realized that he was separated from the support team, as per the plan they had in place prior to the swim, Wayne headed for shore and the team immediately implemented search-and-rescue procedures. This all happened within a very short period of time and we are very impressed and grateful for the quick efficient response from both the support team and the emergency personnel. Wayne is in good spirits knowing that in the vast world of marathon swims, anything can happen.”
17 hours and 20+ km after his start point, Strach remained strong and was mentally alert when he decided to swim to shore and walk out of the lake voluntarily calling his swim short of his goal. He and his team planned for the unexpected and his abandonment ended well enough.
Photo shows Strach after 11.5 km in the lake, in the daytime alongside his escort boat.
Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association