Mission Accomplished: Stuart Kelley Completes Swim for the Cycle
On February 6, Dr. Stuart Kelley became the first person to have swum in Lake George at least once every calendar day–leap year included.
The swim completing the cycle, witnessed by several friends of Kelley’s as well as his wife Melissa, took place at Silver Bay’s Slim Point on a fortuitously, unseasonably, warm day.
The temperature of the lake was 38 degrees – less bracing than the 6-degree lake Kelley has dived into in the past, but cold enough to deter any bystanders from joining him.
“Swimming in Lake George every calendar date of the year has required some determination, some logistical planning, and some strong support from my wife, Melissa,” said Kelley. “Lake George is spectacularly beautiful in any season, and I’ve enjoyed each and every swim I’ve taken in the Queen of American Lakes.”
Kelley’s swim for the cycle began on New Year’s Eve, 1991. “The New Year’s swim was the start of it. After that, I decided to make certain that I swam in Lake George at least once a month, no matter what the temperature,” said Kelley, a summer resident of Hague.
“We had to make special trips from our home in Virginia, even in April, when the appeal of Lake George is not especially evident,” said Kelley’s wife Melissa.
Having achieved his goal of being in the lake every month of the year, Kelley grew more ambitious, rather than resting on his laurels. Hence the drive to become the first person to have swum in the lake every day of the year.
“It got out of hand,” Kelley concedes, speaking of his quest.
“What’s pushing me?” he asks. “I can’t explain it. Call it obsessive compulsive behavior.”
A retired staff physicist for the Department of Defense, whose hobbies include restoring antique clocks, antique electric fans and early outboard motors, Kelley is nothing if not exacting.
For instance, he has a precise definition of what constitutes a swim, as opposed to a dip:
“You have to be buoyant, moving on your own power, completing a minimum of two or three strokes with kicking,” he says.
After the lake freezes over, he finds open water to complete his swims.
“More often than not, I’m swimming with the ducks,” he says.
Completing the cycle at Silver Bay was especially important to Kelley, since Silver Bay is where he met his wife and where his mother visited in the 1920s, starting a family tradition of summers on Lake George, one that’s now in its fourth generation.
“My parents were school teachers in New Jersey, and they began bringing my brother and me to Lake George when we were quite young. We stayed at Rogers Rock, Trout House Village and Silver Bay before they found this property,” Kelley says in his living room, whose windows overlook Pudding Island.
Kelley attended Union College as an undergraduate and received a PhD in Solid State Physics from the University of Delaware. Both he and Melissa worked as Emps at Silver Bay.
“What’s intriguing are the number of Emps we knew who are still friends of ours, including a number of couples who, like us met at Silver Bay and are still married,” remarks Melissa, who worked as a travel agent while Stuart was at the Department of Defense and they were raising their two children.
If there’s a quality that Kelley admires, it is, he says, perseverance, and that trait has characterized his work as a scientist – he’s published more than sixty papers on physics, chemistry, mathematics, optics, and oceanography, as well as his athletic pursuits. In addition to swimming for the cycle, he is, for instance, a marathon runner and an Adirondack 46er.
Now that he’s completed his goal of swimming in Lake George every day of the calendar year, Kelley has had a chance to reflect upon his accomplishment.
“I treasure most my memory of those swims when it was snowing softly and quietly, with other sounds muffled and distant. Numb toes and ice on my glasses are small prices to pay for being immersed in Lake George’s silky waters in winter,” said Kelley. “Setting such a goal and achieving it is one of life’s pleasures. By the way, these swims have provided an icebreaking conversational topic at cocktail parties. An unfortunate consequence of achieving my goal is that now I’ll be expected to devise some new jaw-dropping challenge.”