The Woman who Swam Seneca Lake in 2015

The Woman who Swam Seneca Lake in 2015

This is the incredible story about Bridgette Hobart Janeczko who, at age 52, swam the entire length of Seneca Lake back in August 2015. She swam from the northern tip in Geneva, NY, all the way south to Watkins Glen, NY, 38 miles long. This amazing feat took her 24 hours and 41 minutes.

I interviewed “The Lady of the Lakes” recently to hear her story. She said Seneca was one of the toughest swims she’d ever done — even harder than the English Channel — because winds created difficult swimming conditions in the night unexpectedly. Prior to that she had many major swims accomplished, including most of the Finger Lakes of upstate New York: Canandaigua, Cayuga, Skaneateles and Keuka. Yet Seneca turned out to be one of her toughest.

She actually didn’t love swimming as a child. She failed swim lessons multiple times in her youth. But on her eleventh birthday she went to try-outs. The incredible support and encouragement she received that day turned her into a dedicated swimmer. Plus, her family had a cottage on Seneca Lake where she spent most of her summers.

She swam through high school and college, then took a 20-some year break. When her step-gram was terminally ill, she was encouraged to get back into it.

“She had me promise her I’d get back to swimming after she passed,” Bridgette said. “I think of her often. She’s the one who got me back in swimming. I started back in my mid-40s and have gone from there.”

The Seneca swim was plotted out from Geneva to Watkins Glen so she could end where her parents’ cottage was.

She relied heavily on weather forecasting. The night of August 29, 2015 was expected to be beautiful, a quiet night with a bright full moon. There was some expected turbulence around 11:00 p.m. But after that, all hell broke loose.

A strange storm came up in the middle of the night which pushed her back, or kept her from making progress. What was really odd about this storm is that people on shore had no idea how rough the lake got in the center where she swam, in the eerie darkness of a full moon, in the middle of the night.

Winds were under 3 miles per hour when she first started, but after midnight wind speeds picked up unexpectedly to 10 miles per hour.The air went from 81 degrees to 60, and the water temperature went from mid 70s to under 70. Her husband Bob, following in a kayak, had to retreat to the pontoon boat because the waves were threatening him.

The conditions were a challenge, as well as her mindset. She thought she was doing well, but in actuality the water practically pushed her back. She thought she was killing it because of the opposition from the wind and water, but through the night she was basically swimming in place.

Her pontoon boat support crew, who watched over her and fed her every 30 minutes, had a problem with a hot water battery failing. The boat also stalled at one point. The full moon was a saving grace because it cast enough light for the crew members to see any threats in the water, including the waves.

She battled against this bizarre storm by swimming against it which was exhausting and brutal to her body and mind. Her support crew suffered along with her in the dark but couldn’t touch or help her.

The rules of her swimming is that no one could touch her and she couldn’t hang on to the edge of a boat or any other support in order for it to count in the record books.

“The winds killed us from midnight to 10 a.m.,” she said. “We lost so much time. We were like 20 minutes per mile slower, which is a lot since my mile is usually 35.”

In the morning, the Schuyler County Sheriffs’ boat came out to support her. At first it panicked her, because she thought they were going to make her quit. But actually, they came out to support her. This gave her renewed encouragement after a very tough night, and she was able to make better progress with that day’s swim.

Shared teamwork and a common goal with her support crew was very important, and a big motivator to her.

Janeczko said in retrospect, she should have gone south to north. But she wanted to finish in Watkins Glen.

She finished four-to-six hours later that she expected.

“It was hard on my shoulders. My head was getting slammed and my neck is sore; it was pretty abusive.”

Since the swim was sanctioned by the World Open Water Swimming Association, no one was allowed to touch her, otherwise her swim would not be official, she said. Other rules include her not being allowed to wear a wetsuit, touch any boat or kayak midswim, or entering or exiting the water with any assistance.

A pontoon boat crew of supporters along with her husband watched over her during the Seneca swim. When asked, one told reporters that it was a miracle that she finished considering how harsh the nighttime conditions had been.

She began this amazing swim on August 28, 2015 at 6:01 p.m. and emerged shaky and beaten up on August 29, 2015 more than 24 hours and 31 minutes later. That made her part of what is called “The 24-Club” in Open Swimming.

I was there by random chance, on the deck near the Watkins Glen Marina and watched her emerge. She was barely able to stand up. Her husband put her clogs on the shore and we watched as she practically crawled out on her own, bent over and freezing.

She was wrapped in a warm towel as family, friends, her crew and spectators on the pier that day celebrated her victory.

I’m incredibly blessed to have been there the moment she emerged from the lake that day, and to finally interview her in October 2022 to hear her side of the story!



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