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Swimmer becomes first to cross Winnipesaukee twice

Maury McKinney hugs his 10-year-old daughter Zoe after reaching the Center Harbor town beach 27 hours after leaving it for a double-cross of Lake Winnipesaukee. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
September 09, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — Maury McKinney went into Lake Winnipesaukee at the Center Harbor docks on Wednesday. Around 27 hours, 42 miles, and one brief stop at Alton Bay later, he swam back up to the town beach Thursday morning, becoming the first swimmer to complete a double swim of Lake Winnipesaukee.

McKinney swam to raise money and awareness for a new aquatic facility. The North Conway resident is vice president of the board of the White Mountain Aquatic Foundation and is raising awareness and funds for a feasibility study to build a swimming facility closer to the Conway Valley.

McKinney swam the length of the lake from Center Harbor to Alton last year. This year he decided to make a double crossing, starting again in Center Harbor in a bid to swim to Alton Bay again and then swim back.

McKinney said he has been swimming "ever since I was a tiny, little baby. My dad threw me in when I was 2."

Jim Soroka, president of the White Mountain Aquatic Foundation's board of directors, added that McKinney has swum all throughout high school and college, swimming in national competitions. He did not do any major swimming for a while, taking time to work and raise his family.

"I've really only gotten back to swimming the last five years," McKinney said.

"Maury's been swimming in the local lakes around here for years and years," said Soroka said. "Then he got introduced to the Laconia (Athletic and Swim Club). I dragged him over there, (and) it's like he got back into the competitive mode. His real love is open water. Swimming every summer, he gets out there and swims the lake."

After his reintroduction to the water, McKinney quit his job and started swimming seriously. He currently works as a swim instructor.

On Sept. 17, 2008, McKinney swam the length of Winnipesaukee in 12.5 hours, starting at Center Harbor and ending in Alton Bay. According to the Foundation, McKinney is the second person to have made that achievement.

"As soon as I touched last year I was like 'oh man, I've got to go back,'" he said. "It's a sickness."

McKinney's swims were done to raise money and awareness for the creation of an aquatic facility in the Mount Washington Valley, as advocated by the White Mountain Aquatic Foundation.

The White Mountain Aquatic Foundation is a relatively new organization that has had nonprofit status for nearly six months and is working toward the creation of an aquatic facility closer to the Mount Washington Valley.

"There are no facilities of this sort in an hour-and-a half drive," Soroka said, saying he drives to the nearest one in Laconia.

Preliminary plans include a three-pool facility with pools for recreation, therapy, and learning to swim. According to the foundation, the facility aims to deliver aquatic education, recreation, safety, competition, fitness and rehabilitative programs.

The foundation is looking to raise money for a feasibility study for the center, such as "direction as to location, design, and actual amenities," Soroka said.

"As of yet we really haven't started a capital campaign and won't until we have the feasibility study to give us the guides," Soroka said. "We have received enormous support from throughout the community. We haven't raised money yet, but our Web site is largely a donated (effort). Our accountant is doing work for us almost for free, some of our printing has been done. There are a lot of people who are willing to step up at the moment. (We) haven't really gone out and started a capital campaign. He's doing it to raise awareness, taking pledges."

"The primary purpose is he wants to challenge himself," said foundation board member Joe LaRue of McKinney's feat. "He's very interested in distance swimming."

LaRue said the swim is "just sort of to draw attention to our group and what we're trying to accomplish."

On Sept. 2, McKinney began his attempt to complete the first double swim crossing of Lake Winnipesaukee in what was called "Smile of the Great Spirit" swim. The team started at the docks in Center Harbor at 6 a.m.

"I train with Maury frequently," Soroka said Wednesday, admitting that around mile 15 last year, he couldn't keep up anymore. "I swam a little bit with him today."

McKinney swam with his support team, including navigator Steve Frechette, swim attendants Bayard Russell and Jamal Lee-Elkin, kayaker Doug Armstrong, photographer Anne Skidmore, writer Ed Parsons, and videographer Thom Pollard, along with watercraft operators Tom Mullen and Jim Drummond. The team traveled on a motorboat with two kayaks.

"Yesterday our breaks were roughly every 25 (minutes) to a half-hour," Frechette said. "(we would) stop to get nourishment and fluids."

The crew landed in Alton Bay around 6 p.m. on Wednesday and stopped for less than half an hour to fuel up. McKinney's wife Karen Eisenberg brought her husband hot soup. Eisenberg and their 10-year-old daughter Zoe McKinney swam together in Alton Bay before McKinney headed back to Center Harbor.

"I always thought he was crazy to do this," Eisenberg said. "But he was very careful about how he planned it."

Eisenberg also said McKinney is experienced in long mountain climbing expeditions and knows how to plan for extended times.

"I think a lot of the training he did for the last few months was mental training," she said.

During the evening hours, the McKinney ate every 15 minutes.

Frechette said the first go through the Broads in Gilford took around two hours. The second time through, however, the winds picked up and it took McKinney five hours to get through the Broads, and he suffered a slight case of hypothermia. He took a half-hour stop there and was given hot tea and jackets.

"Last night in the Broads under the moonlight it was rough," McKinney said. "I suffered, but I suffered with friends; they were pretty verbal. I stayed hydrated, I stayed well-fed; my attendants did a good job."

"He got better and better as he saw the light at the end of the tunnel," Frechette said.

Soroka said McKinney's streamlined form and his powerful stroke in the water makes him an exceedingly strong swimmer.

"He's absolutely a spear in the water," Soroka said. "He's by far the most streamlined person I have ever seen."

The swim gained attention all over the region.

"A lot of people have been calling and pledging money," Frechette said. "People interested should get in touch with the Web site."

The organization's Board of Directors challenged 15 residents, businesses and long-time visitors to donate $2,500 apiece to complete the feasibility study.

After 42 miles and nearly 27 hours of swimming, McKinney arrived at the Center Harbor town beach around 9 a.m. on Thursday. He hugged Frechette and support kayaker Bayard Russel before hugging his wife and daughter.

Zoe McKinney, a fifth grader at the Waldorf School in Madison, took the day off from school on Thursday to see her dad finish his swim. Zoe said the swim was "cool, but absolutely insane."

"I'm proud of it, it was hard, it was not easily ended," McKinney said. "I think it's sort of a reflection of the commitment we have to building an aquatic center."

McKinney was taken into a MedStar ambulance and examined by paramedics before being released with a "clean bill of health."

He changed out of his swimming clothes into a t-shirt and jeans in the ambulance.

"I'm going to sleep for two days and I'm going to lick my wounds of which they are numerous," he said. "I have to heal."

McKinney said he wants a break from the long swim but might try to organize a relay swim next year or swim a smaller section.

"This is 95 percent mental," McKinney said. "The physical you know is going to fall apart, you know it's going to hurt."

The White Mountain Aquatic Foundation welcomes donations in any amount and they may be made online at www.whitemountainaquatic.org or can be sent to PO Box 767, North Conway NH 03860. Questions, concerns and suggestions may be directed to Board President Jim Soroka at 447-8805.

Martin Lord Osman
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