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Diane Struble with her 3 children

Diane Struble with her 3 children

Swimming the Length of Lake George: Many Have Tried Since 1927

By Mirror Staff

Saturday, December 18, 2010

While the 2007 Lake George Open Water Swim was intended to commemorate the famous Marathon of 1927, it will also be remembered as one in a series of swimming events to be staged on the lake since that historic marathon, when 140 swimmers from around the globe competed for a first prize of $5000.

The history of Lake George swims is a rich one, says Graham Bailey, the organizer of the 2007 swim. He provided the Mirror with some of the details of that history.

According to Conrad Wennerberg, the author of a history of marathon swimming, there were several races held on the lake in the years immediately following World War II. One race, from Bolton Landing to Lake George Village, was staged in 1948.  It was won by Jerry Kerschner of Columbus, Ohion, who completed the 12-mile swim in four hours and 59 minutes.

Diane Struble, of course, was the first person to swim the entire length of the lake, accomplishing that feat in 1958.

Starting from the dam at the lake’s outlet in Ticondertoga, Struble reached Lake George Village approximately 35 hours later.

The 25-year-old divorced mother of three woke up to find herself famous.

“Length of Lake George Swimmer Gains International Fame; So Do We!” proclaimed a Lake George Mirror headline.

According to the Mirror, Struble’s feat was “televised world-wide;” she was interviewed by the Today show and appeared on “To Tell the Truth” and other shows of that era. Her appearances, the Mirror said, were “a real plug for Lake George.”

Shirley Armstrong, the Kattskill Bay resident who covered Struble’s swim for the Albany Times-Union, wrote that Struble had become “the sweetheart of America.”

Struble herself was quoted as saying, “If I can convince even one person that faith can move mountains, this swim will have been worthwhile for that alone.”

Struble with Village officials before the swim

Struble remained a Lake George notable, making public appearances at Animal Land, where her husband, Vermont teacher Dean Rippon, was an alligator wrestler.

In 1962, a former Marine named Bill Stevens staged the same length-of-the-lake swim, completing it in less time – by about four hours – than Struble herself.

Stevens appears to have resented the attention lavished on Struble (and the money he believed she earned).  According to him, his was the only “official” swim up the lake.

In fact, he sometimes claimed that Struble never actually completed the swim, and whenever Lake George swims were mentioned in the press, he accused sports writers of spreading falsehoods. He made those accusations so frequently, especially in letters to Times Union reporter Lindy Strout, that the Albany paper’s Sports Department finally wrote to him in 1975: “You can stop writing to Lindy Strout now. He died ten months ago.”

What Stevens hoped to accomplish with his swim is something he failed to achieve: fame.

As he wrote to the secretary of a swimming association, “ I said in one statement I (was) doing it for the love of the sport but deep inside me I was serious because I really loved being part of becoming a champion not just to brag but to mingle among people who really care what one is doing or trying to accomplish.”

The next to swim the length of the lake was George Dempsey, a 17 year-old boy from Troy.

Dempsey made his swim in 1967, not quite beating the time made by Stevens five years earlier. Struble was a passenger in the guide boat that accompanied him from the rock at the outlet – named Diane’s Rock in Struble’s honor – to Lake George Village.

Steven’s time was finally beaten in 1977 by a 45 year-old English woman, Stella Taylor. She finished the swim four hours earlier than Stevens had.

A more recent attempt to swim the length of the lake was completed in 1997, not by one individual, but one family, the Klines of Glens Falls.

Elissa Kline, then 14, was one of three family members to participate in the relay. Ten years later, she will be among the twelve marathon swimmers competing in the Lake George Open Water Swim on June 30.

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