September 8, 2011, Newport, VT – Eleven marathon open water swimmers have banded together to swim the 26-mile length of Lake Memphrémagog from Newport, Vermont to Magog, Quebec, Canada on the weekend marking the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001. Hosted by Indoor Recreation Orleans County (IROC), an innovative health and fitness club serving the underprivileged in northeastern Vermont, and the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association (NEKOWSA), the expedition has several goals:
· To financially support IROC in a time of need;
· Promote a more open border with Canada; and
· Search for the legendary lake creature, Memphré, a serpent-like animal who has quietly inhabited the lake for more than two centuries, according to local legend.
IROC, built in 2004, is a 54,000 sq. ft. sports, fitness, and recreation center housing a swimming pool, a 94-foot water slide, a therapy pool, a fitness center, and a multi-purpose sports arena. IROC is located in the Northeast Kingdom, a rural area of Vermont plagued with one of the nation’s highest rates of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Through its “Healthy Changes Initiative,” IROC subsidizes memberships for local residents based on a “use-it-or-lose-it” incentivization policy intended to improve fitness and reduce the risk and impact of many health problems; the more frequently a member uses the facility, the cheaper the membership becomes. Twenty-percent of area residents are either members or regular users of the facility. IROC was built and continues to operate courtesy of funds donated by local residents and other supporters, and it has become a lifeline for local residents. But IROC is facing a budget shortfall this year and is in danger of closing.
Elaine Kornbau Howley, a 33-year-old writer from Waltham, MA and Greg O’Connor, a 42-year-old cancer researcher from Natick, MA were the first to heed IROC’s cry for fundraising assistance and collaborated to create the In Search of Memphre Tour to help IROC raise much-needed funding. Last year, Howley and O’Connor smashed the 41-year-old record for the Boston Light “Double,” a 16-mile out-and-back swim between South Boston and the Boston Lighthouse. They completed the swim as a “tandem solo” and set the standard at 7 hours 7 minutes.
Both veterans of NEKOWSA’s annual 10-Mile Kingdom swim, Howley and O’Connor have long wanted to swim the entire 26-mile beautiful length of Lake Memphrémagog. With the help of IROC Executive Director and NEKOWSA founder Phil White, 63, of Derby, VT, who runs several other swimming, running, and triathlon events in the Northeast Kingdom, they determined the start date and time for the swim and extended an invitation to several other top marathon swimmers to join the expedition.
Solo swim participants undertaking the 26-mile swim include:
· Liz Fry, 52, of Westport, CT, a five-time solo crossing veteran of the English Channel who completed a 24-hour solo-double crossing of the Channel earlier this summer;
· Bill Shipp, 51, of Mitchellville, MD, who will be undertaking the swim on the one-year anniversary of the date he was diagnosed with prostate cancer (now in remission);
· Emma Reade Otto-Moudry, 16, of Ithaca NY, an 11th grader who recently set the course record for the 4.75-mile Lake Willoughby Swim;
· John Humenick, a 36-year-old airline pilot from New York City who won the 10-mile Kingdom Swim in 2009, the event’s inaugural year;
· Charlotte Brynn, a 45-year-old New Zealander now living in Stowe, VT who recently took first place among the women in the historic 8-mile Boston Light Swim;
· Jennifer Dutton, 42, of Wayland, MA who hails from northern Vermont and has completed a number of long-distance swims in Lakes Champlain and Memphrémagog;
· David Dammerman, 42, of Saratoga Springs, NY, the 2011 winner of the 10-mile Kingdom swim.
Relay swimmers include Alison Meehan, 39 of Elkton, MD and Shannon Keegan, 36, of Derby VT who will each swim half of the 26-mile course. All swimmers will be supported by a fleet of kayakers, boaters, and other crew volunteers who will watch for dangers on the course and feed the swimmers at pre-designated intervals. The event will take between 11 and 15 hours for each swimmer to complete. All participants have previously taken part in the annual Kingdom Swim event.
White and Howley hope to turn the “In Search of Memphré Tour” into an annual event organized by NEKOWSA. “With any luck, we will have a successful swim this weekend and be able to offer this experience to other swimmers in the coming years. It’s a wonderful way to pay tribute to one of America’s cleanest, most beautiful waterways while having fun and helping out an important local charity,” Howley says. “I hope I see the lake creature, Memphré, out there!”
In addition to raising funds for IROC, the “In Search of Memphré Tour” is intended to “reopen” the border between the U.S. and Canada. Up until about 15 years ago, FINA— the international governing body of swimming— ran an annual, professional open water race in Lake Memphrémagog that followed this same course. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the border has only become increasingly more difficult to cross, and the La Traversée Internationale du Lac Memphrémagog swim completely died out.
“While respectful of all of the efforts at the border to detect and deter terrorist activities, the swimmers have joined together to make a simple statement that the border should remain truly open,” says race director, Phil White. “International travel should be encouraged, not discouraged, with our Canadian friends. We hope to promote peace with this swim,” he says.
The swim will begin at midnight on Saturday morning, September 10th and should conclude between 11 am and 3 pm on Saturday afternoon. Depending on conditions, swimmers will swim north from Newport to Magog and will follow English Channel rules. They will not wear wetsuits and the water temperature is expected to be between 60 and 65 degrees.
For more information about the swim or the swimmers, please visit our website: http://www.insearchofmemphre.com/. Complete bios of each participant are available on our website or as a PDF attachment.
Donations in support of the expedition and IROC can be made online at IROCs website: http://www.irocvt.org/index.php?id=36
For further information or to arrange interviews with any of the players, please contact Elaine Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org
In Search of Memphré is being conducted with the support of Barbara Malloy.