July/August 2006 Issue

The Boy Scout Mile Swim
A Memory Snapshot From a Masters Swimmer

by Ken Mange, Michigan Masters

The Boy Scout mile swim was the impetus for my first open water swim of any distance. It was 40 years ago and most of the details are lost now, but I remember a few things quite vividly. We did the swim at summer camp, Northwoods Reservation, near West Branch, Michigan.

We navigated a triangular course around Arrowhead Lake at the scout camp. The route to the first buoy took us through a weedy patch that gave me a creepy feeling. I don't think I had swum through weeds before, and I kicked way too hard as I imagined the sunfish and turtles that I knew sheltered in this weed bed. Soon, I reached more open water and relaxed a little. I swam most of the way breaststroke and sidestroke, which gave me an easy view of the boat.

I was not an age group swimmer, and had just begun to swim on my junior high team. Our practices did nothing to prepare a kid for long swims though. I think we typically lined up for 25-yard sprints, climbed out at the far end of the pool and walked back to the starting end. I suppose our practices averaged less than 500 yards per day, and the swim season ended in February. So by the midpoint of the mile swim, I was getting tired. The lake, which looked small from standing height on the swimming dock, took on a much bigger look with my eyes inches above the surface. I believe my scoutmaster was in the boat along with a rower. They must have asked me how I was feeling several times.

Most of the swim is now dim in my memory, but the image of the rowboat transom is still etched in memory because I followed that old rowboat tenaciously. The swim seemed to go on and on. I managed to cover the distance before my energy failed completely, and I gratefully plodded ashore on the swimming area "beach."

In the 40 years since my Boy Scout mile, I went on to workout yardage and competitive success that makes that swim seem very modest, but the sense of accomplishment in my first mile was a highpoint that I remember fondly.