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Island challenge

69-year-old from Ray Brook swims around each of the Lower Saranac Lake islands

October 24, 2018
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - There are so many islands in Lower and Middle Saranac lakes that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has a campground named Saranac Lake Islands. And one local woman swam around every single one of them this summer and fall.

Susan Hahn, a trim woman with curly hair who looks younger than her 69 years, said she was aided in her swimming effort by her husband who occupied his time fishing while she swam.

"When you get to be 70, there are very few things you get to be better at," she said. "And this is one of them. When I first got back in the water with Hillary (Ryan) - she's my swimming buddy - I could swim maybe a little over a quarter-mile in a half hour, and I'd be exhausted.

Article Photos

Susan Hahn, of Ray Brook, shows off her swimming safety device at the Second Pond boat launch outside of Saranac Lake on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
News photo — Justin A. Levine

"But now I can do three-quarters of a mile in half an hour and I feel just fine. It's good for my mental health and its lowered my cholesterol."

Hahn said she and her husband Peter have lived in Ray Brook full time for eight years, and were here part time for a few years prior to that. Hahn used to work in New York City while her husband worked in Syracuse, and they would meet in Albany before heading to the Adirondacks.

"We have a motor boat, so Peter would go out and go fishing, and I would hop off the back of the boat and go swim some islands," she said.

Hahn said the only island that gave her pause was Eagle Island on Lower Saranac Lake. It's by far the biggest island in the lake.

"The only one I was really worried about was Eagle. Peter put an app on his phone and we clocked it, and we figured out it's about a mile and a half" around the island, she said. "And I thought, 'Can I do this?'

"But once I did it, I thought 'Oh boy, I can do the rest of these easy.'"

Hahn said she and Peter were taking care of their grandchildren in the beginning of the summer, so she didn't start until mid-August. She wrapped up in early September after swimming "three or four days a week."

Hahn said she counted 33 islands, but didn't have any hard and fast criteria to determine what exactly an island is. The lakes are dotted with exposed rocks, and Hahn said some of them counted in her quest while others just didn't make the cut.

"We grouped some of them," she said. "Gull Rock, which is just a rock, got grouped with other things. We managed to group them in such a way that it was 26 (individual swims).

"There are six big islands, so those could be a 'Swimming 6er'" she laughed.

Hahn, who was on her high school swim team in California, said the focus on swimming this summer has led her to look at swimming times, including those of Olympians and Ironman competitors.

"One nice thing about this is I've sort of gotten interested in other people's times," she said. "I read about the Ironman (and) the winning times there were a 2.4-mile swim in about 58 minutes. And that's fast.

"And then I looked up record times, and Katie Ledecky did a mile in 15 minutes. I can't even imagine what that must be like. It becomes an interest, and it's fun."

Hahn said during the winter she swims at North Country Community College's pool, but only tracked her time while swimming Eagle Island. She said she completed the roughly 1.5-mile swim in about an hour and 15 minutes.

"That's not intolerable," she said. "And it's my challenge, so I made the rules. So I could stop and stand up and look around. It wasn't like I had to prove anything."

Hahn said the challenge was inspired by her daughter-in-law, who swam around Bluff Island several years ago.

"So the next year I tried it, and I found out I could do it," she said. "And then the next year I thought 'I don't have to stop with Bluff, I could do all of them.'

"It was fun. We'd go out together, Peter and I, and I'd swim and he'd fish."

When asked what her favorite part of the challenge was, she said conquering Eagle Island stands out.

"It's a big one and I had been dreading it," she said. "And that was the best."

Due to the state campground, most of the islands have campsites on them that can be rented by the public. Hahn said her presence may have startled a few campers.

"I think one of my favorite parts was when I'd pop up and see people at the campsite, and they'd say 'Where did you come from?' And then I'd have to explain that I was swimming around all of the islands," she laughed.

Hahn said that the toughest swim - Green Island - was the most difficult, but that was due to environmental factors.

"It was a windy, choppy day, and there was a lot of current," she said. "And I had looked at Green and it didn't look like anything more than I had done before. But boy, by the time I finished that one, it was tough, but mostly because of the current."

Hahn said one of her biggest concerns was the danger presented by boat traffic, and to that end, she had a bright orange float that dragged behind her. She also felt some peace of mind being so close to the islands that boats were likely not going fast where she was swimming.

"The one thing I think was important was that I had my floatie," she said. "I saw someone swimming down the lake being followed by a kayak, but there's a lot of boat traffic on the lake. And so I feel like with my floatie and just swimming around the islands, I'm relatively safe and not going to get hit by a motorboat."

Hahn said her husband is not a swimmer, but didn't mind the time he was able to spend fishing.

"He thought it was funny," she said. "He was perfectly happy to be fishing while I was swimming. And he also gave me rides out to the islands, so it's not like I had to swim from Second Pond out to the islands, so this was easier."

Although she didn't track it, Hahn estimated that it was probably about 15 miles of total swimming. And though she joked about the "Swimming 6er," Hahn said she's already brainstorming ideas for a different challenge for next summer.

"I've though about swimming between the locks, but again, boat traffic is a problem," she said. "So I may just try to swim the shores, but I want to stay kind of out of the way of motorboats."



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