Man takes on Lake Tahoe – and wins
INCLINE VILLAGE – Under ideal conditions for a swim across the lake, Ken Harmon stepped onto Hyatt Beach Monday afternoon in front of more than 200 family members, friends and curious onlookers.What the festive crowd witnessed was a piece of Lake Tahoe history.Harmon swam from Camp Richardson to Incline Village in a time of 11 hours, 23 minutes, 5 seconds, a 22-mile excursion that marked the longest possible route across Lake Tahoe, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.The 45-year-old Danville, Calif., resident believes he became the first person to ever swim Tahoe’s maximum distance.”To me, if the Coast Guard said it, then this is the record as far as I’m concerned,” said 39-year-old John White, Harmon’s brother in-law. “That’s the time to beat. I’m not one for records. I know it’s important for him, but the thing is he did it. He pulled it off.”According to solo swims.com, Kevin Murphy swam 22 miles in a 2003 lake crossing, but his time was slower at 13:56. The marks could not be immediately confirmed.Last week, 39-year-old Santa Cruz resident Bruckner Chase swam from Camp Richardson to Kings Beach, a distance of 20.3 miles, according to Amy Lenhardt, boatswain’s mate for the U.S. Coast Guard office on the North Shore.Chase’s swim was the eighth successful journey across Lake Tahoe. Just after 5 a.m. Monday, Harmon entered the waters of Lake Tahoe – without a wet suit. The air temperature was 40 degrees and an open canvas opened up before him. That’s when the silliness of his venture sunk in.”There I was standing in the water, thinking to myself ‘This is nuts. You’re 45 years old, what are you doing? What is wrong with you?'” Harmon said. “I was so nervous to get started. But once I did, it was very calming.”Harmon wanted to average 2 mph for the entire course. After a difficult stretch starting at mile 9, he rebounded to complete the first 15 miles in 7 hours, 20 minutes. With 7 miles to go, and the rooftop of the Hyatt in sight, Harmon had visions of finishing in less than 11 hours.”Once I got that pace just past mile 14, I knew I was going to make it,” Harmon said. “The people in the boats were holding signs out letting me know where I was at. I thought I had a chance to break that guy’s time from last week. But then the final two miles came and I knew that was going to be tough.”Harmon’s pace slowed considerably during the final stretch. However, dozens of people gathered at the end of the beach’s pier to cheer him on.Several teenagers wore white T-shirts with green letters offering slogans such as “Ken Is Awesome” and “You’re My Boy Ken.” But there was still one person in the crowd who remained concerned.”I was worried the whole time, but I’ve been worried for quite awhile,” said Jean Harmon, Ken’s mother. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights. This has been a goal he set for himself and he accomplished it. This has been his most challenging one.”Throughout the entire day, the weather cooperated for Harmon. Thunderstorms never developed and Tahoe’s typical afternoon winds didn’t whip up until the last hour. During the final minutes, a chorus of “Let’s go Ken” filled the warm afternoon air. Even tourists, who just minutes before were consumed with their Jet Skis, floating inner tubes and suntans, chimed in. Harmon heard the cheers, and the encouragement seemed to help.During a 20-mile swim of Lake Washington in Seattle, Harmon collapsed 7 hours into the swim. He didn’t allow that to happen Monday. With his ears feeding off the increasingly louder chants, Harmon cut through the last bit of choppy water, stood up in hip-deep water and stepped into the arms of his mother, then dozens of others.”I’m always the first to hug him,” Jean Harmon said.Ken Harmon shook the hands of several Danville area youth athletes before speaking to the media. It was these youth swimmers who were a contributing factor in inspiring Harmon to swim the length of Tahoe.As part of a fund-raising effort, Harmon attempted Monday’s swim to help raise $100,000 for a new community pool in Danville. He has already raised $20,000 and is hoping that setting the distance record in Tahoe will accelerate the donations.Just as fulfilling, though, was completing the longest swim of America’s largest Alpine lake. “I’m still numb to all of this,” Harmon said. “I was relaxed the whole day. I bet my heart beat never went over 120 beats per minute. That was the key for me. But I was absolutely lucky with the weather. I never really felt like I was pushing it too much. It was a long goal but I achieved it.”
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