Pam Halsey of Center Harbor was a triathlete in crisis in 2015. She was recovering from a bicycling accident and was forbidden to bike or run while she healed. All that was left for her was swimming.
She met Brenda Gallagher of Meredith through Bill Irwin, who was a member of her triathlon club.
“Bill said, 'You need to meet my cousin, Brenda. She loves to swim,'” Halsey said.
So they met, and they swam. They started by swimming around islands in Winnipesaukee. That first summer they were a bit lackadaisical, then they realized they were onto something. Since then, they’ve done something they figure no one else has ever done: They swam around all 247 of the islands in Winnipesaukee that aren’t connected to the mainland via a bridge.
They finished the feat earlier this summer, then went back to quickly check off the few that they did in the first two summers, finishing with Mink Island on Aug. 2, so that they can say that they accomplished the list inside of three years.
Gallagher, 64, and Halsey, 56, used flippers and towed air bladders in case of cramps or exhaustion. Their longest continuous swim was the 4.5 miles around Cow Island. On their longest day, when they tackled a few medium-sized islands, they swam for seven miles. Their most eventful day was when they swam for only 3.5 miles but ticked 25 small islands off their list.
That day started with Story Island in Moultonborough. The swim went fine, but when they got back to their boat, they realized that the anchor was stuck under a rock, and they had to dive down to free it. Later, when swimming near Suissevale, they were accosted by a gaggle of geese, which they escaped via a steep embankment.
“We were rock climbing, and the geese were following us,” Gallagher said.
Most of their animal encounters were benign, though. They frequently saw squirrels swimming between islands and the mainland, and once saw a deer make such a trip.
“We learned a lot about loons,” Halsey said. “Their different calls and what they mean, seeing them close-up with their babies on their backs.”
“It was neat to see the nature around the lake,” Gallagher said. She also said they didn’t see nearly as much litter on the lake bottom as she feared, though there were areas full of golf balls and, in one spot, a sunken toilet.
Gallagher said that they approached their goal in the same way that hikers tackle the list of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains that are at least 4,000 feet tall: a challenge to keep them active and engaged in a sport they love. They scheduled their swims around family events and other obligations, and even around Gallagher’s knee replacement and, later, a broken arm.
Now that they’ve finished the list, what will be next?
“Maybe we’ll do them all again, counter-clockwise,” Gallagher joked.