Swimmer Rises to a Miles-High Challenge

Local Tom Hale, in yellow cap, competes far from home last week, swimming between islands in Lake Titicaca in Peru.
Local Tom Hale, in yellow cap, competes far from home last week, swimming between islands in Lake Titicaca in Peru.

Local open-water ocean swimmer Tom Hale again braved frigid waters to compete in a fresh-water lake contest far from home and far above sea level.

Hale, 46, boarded a ponga boat on Lake Titicaca in the 12,500-foot high Andes Mountains for a seven kilometer swim between Isla del Sol and Isla del Luna last weekend. The two islands, considered sacred in local mythology, is where the Incan god Viracocha is believed to have emerged from the lake, the “center of the universe,” and created the sun and the moon. The lake forms a border between Bolivia and Peru.

Just two months ago, Hale took part in the annual Memphremagog Winter Swim Festival in Newport, Vt., at the glacial Lake Memphre, which spans Quebec and northern Vermont. A 25-meter, two-lane pool was cut into the 18-inch thick lake ice for the swimmers, who did not wear wetsuits. The water temperature was 31.5 degrees. He and Lynn Kubasek, also an open water swimmer from Laguna Beach, swam the 25-meter freestyle.

“It’s like breathing through a straw,” said Hale, of the atmosphere at Lake Titicaca, called the highest navigable lake in the world. “I am nervous. Sick from lack of oxygen and completely elated,” he wrote in an email.


Hale, second from right with other American swimmers.
Hale, second from right with other American swimmers.

Hale described the Lake Titicaca swim the most challenging he’s undertaken thus far. The fresh lake water provides swimmers no buoyancy. Initially, he planned to swim with a wetsuit, but he opted against it. “On the way to the event, I decided I would rather swim and not finish without a wetsuit than finish with one and question my ability to have done it,” he said.

“I truly thought this was going to get the better of me a couple of times,” said Hale, who said he was suffering from hypothermia, an aching head and stiff joints an hour into the swim.

Hale, his daughter Faith and the Oak Streakers also swam from Catalina Island in a relay last August, becoming the first team to make the channel crossing to Laguna Beach, a 33.5-mile span. And in August 2014, Hale and his daughter swam the Bay to Breakers 10K in the San Francisco Bay.

“I question why I endure such things but inside I truly love the challenge,” said Hale, who will bring home two medals from this trip, one for completing the annual event put on by the Bolivian government and another for finishing first in his 40-49 age group.

The South American achievement opens the door to invitations such as the Siberia International Winter Swim Championships. But Hale has already identified his next goal, a bit closer to home. He aims to establish a new world record this fall by swimming the bodies of water under three bridges in one day; the Hudson River beneath the Verrazano Bridge in New York, the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego and the Golden Gate in San Francisco.


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