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Swimming sisters (and da Bro) complete swim across Squam

Rick van de Poll heads out in a canoe to spot for his wife, Wendy. Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
August 12, 2009
SANDWICH — Without the benefit of webbed feet, wings, or water-resistant plumage, six swimmers crossed Squam Lake in a relay swim to raise funds for Lakes Region loons.

Rose de Mars "Ice Queen," Nancy Hansen "Flipper Girl," Carol Zink "Bass Girl Chick," Alex Adriance "Water Diva," Rick van de Poll "da Bro," and Wendy van de Poll "Hydro Chick" crossed seven miles of water on Squam Lake, earning money with each mile. They were greeted at the Sandwich Town Beach with applause and fanfare for their aquatic efforts.

"It's cold!" exclaimed Wendy van de Poll, as she stepped into the water and prepared to start paddling on the first leg of the seven-mile swim.

The swim had raised at least $6,600 at its conclusion, according to Loon Center biologist Harry Vogel, though he noted more than a few donations being handed in to the Loon Preservation Committee as the swimmers reached the shoreline.

Funds raised from the swim will benefit the study of loons on the lakes, in particular, the decline of loons and their surviving chicks. In 2005 on Squam Lake, biologist recorded a significant drop in loon pairs on the lake from 16 pairs in 2004, to nine in 2005. Compounding the problem, few chicks have survived to maturity on the lake. Vogel said the Squam population seemed to be doing a little better so far this year.

While biologists are testing invalid eggs, fish, and samples of loon blood and feathers, the funding to make the research happen can be costly one egg test may cost over $2,000.

"Overall, we've seen a slight uptick in the population it's been so low, it had nowhere else to go," said Vogel. "We want you guys to know that we appreciate it. To date, we've got over $6,600 (pledged for the swim), and we'll put it to good use."

As van de Poll worked on her first two miles, a loon call sounded out across the water. It was saying "thank you," according to some of the swimmers on the pontoon boat.

The swim itself was carefully choreographed for the safety of the swimmers. Each swimmer had at least one "spotter," who paddled alongside them, ready to throw them a lifesaver if needed, and calling out corrections if the swimmer started to veer off-course. Ahead of the swimmer, a pontoon boat, captained by former Winnipesaukee biologist Ralph Kirshner, carried the other swimmers waiting to make their own splash.

"The water felt really good," said van de Poll. "I've swum it so many times, I know the general direction, but I depend on the spotter. I kept thinking I was done, and I wasn't."

The swimmers taking part in the event came from different swimming backgrounds, and with different reasons for taking the plunge.

Zink, on a masters' swim team back in California, said that open water swimming, as compared to a pool, is more of a challenge with regard to sight, and to working with the chop and current. The act of swimming, Zink said, is when she can let her mind float and solve problems, without interruptions in her train of thought.

"I can solve a lot of problems, like how to make lessons more interesting," said Zink. "The lake is so much more beautiful, it's just the Garden of Eden as far as I'm concerned."

Hansen, a first-time relay swimmer, said she wasn't nervous about the swim at all, after participating in a practice with the others she even got to float with several loons. She began swimming three years ago, as a form of non-abrasive exercise. Part of this effort, she said, was to impress her friends and family, and show them that she could do it.

Adriance earned her nickname of "Water Diva" when she started swimming in the lakes, and tried to see how late in the year she could swim in the Lakes Region she lasted till Thanksgiving. Swimming a lot when she can, last week's relay swim was her second, spotted by her 14-year-old son, Cody.

"It's kind of hard, waiting until the end (to swim)," said Adriance. "The first swim I took, three loons were waiting by the Sandwich beach. It was kind of cool, like they were saying hello."

In the end, Rick Van de Poll swam two miles, Wendy Van de Poll swam three miles, de Mars swam three miles, Hansen swam two miles, Zink swam two miles, and Adriance swam one mile. Each swimmer gathered together just before making the final leg of the trip up onto the Sandwich Town Beach, where the Loon Preservation Committee and a crowd of well-wishers applauded as the swimmers came onshore.

Anyone wishing to still donate to the Loon Swim can call the LPC at 476-5666 or visit the events section of LPC's Web site at www.loon.org.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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