ASHLAND, N.H. — A 92-year-old ex-Marine known as the Paddling Professor came up short Monday in his bid to swim two miles across a lake and had to be removed from the water and treated for exposure to the cold.
Harry Briggs, who has swum across Lake Erie, in shark-infested waters between Corsica and Sardinia and 30 miles around Lake Winnipesaukee, was trying to swim across Little Squam Lake and raise money from sponsors for the Plymouth State University women’s tennis team, whose members cheered him on.
He entered the water Monday afternoon at Riveredge Marina in Ashland. He made it about two-thirds of the way to his destination at Walter’s Basin Restaurant in Holderness. He planned to swim along the shoreline so he wouldn’t drift off course, but he battled a strong headwind during the swim and had to be pulled out and treated for hypothermia, spokesman Mike Moffett said.
Briggs, who was doing OK after the aborted Labor Day swim, said he wasn’t able to see well in the water because of the wind. He said he was going to recharge his batteries for a while before deciding what to do next.
Briggs said before his swim that 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.
“My skills have eroded, but I still feel I’m worth something,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Briggs, a tennis fan and player, made the Little Squam Lake swim with the university’s support. The university’s athletics director, John Clark, said it appreciated his efforts and interest in supporting women’s tennis.
Briggs splits his time between Campton in the summer and Leesville, La., where he teaches political science at Northwestern State University, in the winter. He said he likes the water temperature of Louisiana’s lakes, about 85 degrees, better than New Hampshire’s cooler temperatures but has to watch out for poisonous water moccasins and alligators.
Briggs started marathon swimming in the mid-1950s. But the swimming took a toll on his body, and at the urging of his wife he stopped the marathons in 1964. He and his wife started playing tennis.
Briggs didn’t resume distance swimming until 30 years later when, at age 74, he swam across Little Squam Lake in memory of his late wife and to support women’s tennis at Plymouth State.
He estimates he’s swum 1,000 miles over his 92 years.
“I think if I stop swimming,” he said, “I’d disintegrate physically.”