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“Joy in the Water:” 20-Mile Lake Swim Raises Funds for Silver Bay

“Joy in the Water:” 20-Mile Lake Swim Raises Funds for Silver Bay August 30, 2023
Photo of Scott Cotten.
Scott Cotten prepared for his 2023 Lake George swim by participating in virtual Lake George Marathons, including one in 2022. Photo courtesy Silver Bay YMCA.

Scott Cotten may not have achieved everything he might have hoped to when he launched his length-of-the-lake swim on August 14, but he did manage to: swim nearly 20 miles, much of it in the dark, beating against a north wind; call attention to the need for swimming instruction for children of all backgrounds; and raise thousands of dollars for Silver Bay YMCA’s waterfront programs.

“We here at Silver Bay are very proud of Scott and very much appreciate the effort and the hours of training that he devoted to this,” said Walt Lender, Silver Bay’s Vice President for Development and Government Relations.

“I’m very happy that he was able to put his energy into something that benefits Silver Bay, which means so much to him personally.”

When Cotten slipped into the lake in Lake George Village on the evening of August 14, his goal was to swim the 32.19 miles to a rock at the lake’s north end, the point from which Diane Struble launched her length-of-the-lake swim in 1958.

“Only two things could force me stop midway: lightening or a debilitating physical problem,” Cotten explained at Silver Bay on August 17. “At hour twelve, one shoulder began to hurt. After another few hours, both hurt.”

A few hours away from his goal, when Cotten was somewhere between Sabbath Day Point and Silver Bay, his crew made the decision to pull him from the water to avert the potentially dangerous consequences of not doing so.

For the Love of Silver Bay

Cotten, a 56-year-old, North Carolina-based commercial printing executive, came to know Lake George as a fourth-generation member of a longtime YMCA and Silver Bay family.

“I spent all my time on the lake. We explored the entire lake with a Silver Bay rowboat and a small outboard motor. We thought we were Magellans,” said Cotten.

Cotten said that when he began to contemplate a length-of-the-lake swim to benefit Silver Bay, he “knew it had to be for something that that would help other people develop an appreciation for the water.”

According to Walt Lender, Cotten asked that any funds he raised through his swim be used to support Silver Camp, the eight-week day camp for children, some of whom attend for free and others for whom scholarships are available.

“Through our Silver Camp program, campers are taught essential swimming and water safety skills,” said Lender. “There are not enough people teaching those skills, and not enough opportunities for children to learn them. Scott not only wants to support the program, but to see it expand.”

“To be sure, there are many private homes on the water, but not a lot of publicly accessible beaches and public pools,” said Cotten. “So the many local kids who can’t take advantage of something like Silver Camp never develop the skills they need to stay safe in the water.”

A Personal Goal

Swimming the length of Lake George became a personal goal for Cotten, who participated in the Virtual Lake George Marathon Swims of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“I achieved a level of fitness that I’d never reached before and acquired a significant amount of experience with open water swims,” he said. “So, I had arrived at that point in my life where I asked myself, ‘what am I waiting for?’ It was time for me to attempt the length-of-the-lake swim.”

According to Cotten, he spent the eight months prior to his swim training for it.

“It felt as though I were learning to swim all over again,” he said.

Among his sources of inspiration were the women who recently completed length-of-the-lake swims: Bridget Simpson, Charlotte Brynn, Caroline Block and Karyn Scherer.

“Marathon swimming is dominated by females,” said Cotten.

Lake George at Eye Level

Cotten was in the water for seventeen and a half hours. Between 7 pm on Monday and noon on Tuesday, Cotton experienced Lake George as few others have: at eye level.

As Cotten showed photos of the swim, he provided a narrative.

“The sunset and steamboats were beautiful. The Narrows were dark, but for some disorienting, blinking lights. The wind picked up and never stopped, and it doesn’t take a lot of wind to make waves. The temperatures dropped and for the next six hours, it was cold. A crescent moon appeared about 4:30 am. Sabbath Day Point appeared on the horizon but after swimming for three hours, it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. It was raining and it had been for hours. That’s when they put me in the boat,” said Cotten.

He added, “Every experience was one I’d never had.”

To Find Joy in the Water

Cotten said people asked him if his intention was to “conquer the lake.”

“I was not trying to conquer the lake. It was something the lake and I were going to do together,” he said.

Rather, his intention, or, put another way, his hope, “was to inspire one more person to find joy in the water. If my swim has had that effect on someone, then it has been a success.”

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