CONCORD, N.H. – Harry Briggs has swum across Lake Erie, in shark-infested waters between Corsica and Sardinia, and 30 miles around New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, but his biggest challenge might be the 2 miles he plans to swim Labor Day across Little Squam Lake.
Now 92, Briggs says his body can’t handle the low water temperatures like it did in 1957 when he became the first person to swim 32 miles across Lake Erie and had to be treated for hypothermia. Briggs says he hopes Little Squam Lake’s temperature is at least 70 degrees so he can complete the swim and maybe raise some money from sponsors for the women’s tennis team at Plymouth State University.
“My skills have eroded, but I still feel I’m worth something,” he said in a telephone interview last week.
With the university’s support, Briggs plans to enter the water at 1 p.m. at Riveredge Marina in Ashland on Monday and — if all goes well — emerge at about 3 p.m. at Walter’s Basin Restaurant in Holderness.
John Clark, director of athletics at Plymouth State University, said the college appreciates Briggs’ efforts and interest over the year to support women’s tennis.
Briggs, known as the Paddling Professor, splits his time between Campton, N.H., in the summer and Louisiana — where he teaches political science at Northwestern State University in Leesville — in the winter. He likes the water temperature of Louisiana’s lakes better — about 85 degrees — but says he has to watch for poisonous water moccasins and alligators.
A retired Marine, Briggs says he started marathon swimming in the mid-1950s simply for the challenge. For a while, the Marine Corps and an outboard motor company sponsored his swims for the positive publicity they received in exchange, he said. But the swimming was taking a toll on his body and at the urging of his wife, he stopped the marathons in 1964. Instead, he and his wife started playing tennis.
Briggs didn’t resume distance swimming until 30 years later when, at age 74, he swam 12 miles across Little Squam Lake in memory of his late wife and to support women’s tennis at Plymouth State.
Briggs estimates he’s swum 1,000 miles over his 92 years.
“I wouldn’t want to do it at one time,” he said.
Monday’s swim will mark the 50th anniversary of his 1963 swim around Lake Winnipesaukee. Briggs says he began training in May and plans to swim along the shoreline so he won’t drift off course. If he’s able to raise money for women’s tennis, he might try to swim the lake again next year.
“I think if I stop swimming, I’d disintegrate physically,” he said.