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Springfield, N.H., Teen Swimmer Goes Long Distance

  • Fourteen-year-old Vera Rivard, of Springfield, N.H., became the youngest person to swim the 25-mile length of Lake Memphremagog, which spans northern Vermont and southern Quebec. Rivard completed the feat as part of the Search for Memphre event on July 18.

  • Vera Rivard, left, swims a 25-mile route on Lake Memphremagog on July 18. Mother Darcie DeBlois-Rivard is at right in kayak while Newport City, Vt., sits in background.

  • Vera Rivard, left, swims a 25-mile route on Lake Memphremagog on July 18. Mother Darcie DeBlois-Rivard is at right in kayak while Owl's Head ski area in Mansonville, Quebec, sits in background. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Vera Rivard, left, swims a 25-mile route on Lake Memphremagog on July 18. Mother Darcie DeBlois-Rivard is at right in kayak while Newport City, Vt., sits in background.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

 

Derby, Vt. — As a regular with the Upper Valley Aquatic Center swim team since age 5, Vera Rivard has always preferred distance events. Lately, she’s been taking that concept even farther.

Rivard, 14, on July 18 became the youngest documented swimmer to span the entire 25-mile length of Lake Memphremagog (not including South Bay), the glacial lake spanning northern Vermont and southern Quebec. Rivard, a Springfield, N.H., resident and rising Kearsarge Regional High freshman, overcame day-long head winds to reach a public beach in Magog, Quebec, in 16 hours, 24 minutes.

She’d plunged in from behind a restaurant in downtown Newport, Vt., at dawn with six others entered into Swim for Memphre, an annual event to celebrate the lake and look for its namesake monster. There was no sign of the beast, but Rivard and Sharessa Gutierrez, of Omaha, Neb., celebrated anyway as the only swimmers to finish.

With a swimming style described as joyful by Search for Memphre founder Phil White, Rivard said she didn’t even experience legitimate fatigue during the journey. Adopting regulations for those attempting the popular English Channel open water swim, Rivard was joined by a support crew that included her mom, Darcie DeBlois-Rivard, in a kayak to help provide direction, while her father, Kevin Rivard, and sister Margaret traveled alongside in a small motor boat. They were there to provide encouragement and support, including food and water, but she could not contact any person or boat during the expedition.

No sweat for the teenager.

“For me, I just love swimming, so I got to do what I loved all day,” Rivard said at a three-season cottage in the Derby Bay neighborhood her family purchased as a second home in 2016. “It’s almost meditative for me, just a consistent rhythm. It’s one stroke at a time. I never really got that tired.”

Rivard has had plenty of practice. Having worked her way up through Kingdom Games’ many swim offerings over the last four years, last summer she became the youngest to participate in the annual 15.5-mile (25 kilometer) Border Buster on Memphremagog.

Rivard also partook in the lake’s Winter Swim Festival, a series of races held on swim lanes cut into the winter ice.

Preparing specifically for Search for Memphre, Rivard also augmented her training with extra sessions at UVAC, where she’s a member of the junior swim team. For longer distance training, she swam approximately 3-mile routes around several islands situated not far from her family’s cottage.

In more favorable conditions, Rivard had completed the 2017 Border Buster in 7 hours, 15 minutes for a top-5 overall finish. The family estimated a completion time of about 14 hours for Search for Memphre, knowing that conditions could be volatile.

As it turned out, persistent headwinds slowed the pace down enough that Rivard finished well after dark, putting to good use the flood lights her crew packed.

“I actually don’t mind swimming in the dark. Sometimes it’s better not to know exactly where you are,” Rivard said. “It helps you just swim and not worry about how much longer you have.”

Rivard’s delight for swimming has been a pleasure to witness for White, whose Kingdom Games company donates all after-tax profits to Northeast Kingdom charities. White — whose year-round log cabin is a short walk from the Rivards’ second home — first encountered Vera’s whimsy in the water four years ago, when as a 10-year-old she swam in the 1.5-mile Caspian Swim in Greensboro, Vt., part of the Kingdom Swim Week featuring events on eight lakes over nine days in August.

“She has so much fun in the water, it’s contagious,” said White, 70, who started Kingdom Games as a bike ride in 2007 and has watched it grow to 25 days of running, biking, swimming and ice skating events. “There were big waves on Caspian that day and here’s this 10-year-old just loving it. Not fighting the waves, but letting them come to her, almost climbing up and down them. When she stepped out onto the beach, she just had this confident smile, like, ‘Yeah, I just did that.’ ”

Equally enthusiastic is Vera’s younger sister, Margaret, who is 11. She’s been racing in various Kingdom swim events for three years and, on Saturday, plans to usurp Vera as the youngest-ever participant in the Border Buster.

At this rate, she’ll likely challenge her older sister’s youth record in Search for Memphre within the next few years.

“They’re great friends, but there’s definitely some sister rivalry there,” DeBlois-Rivard, their mom, said. “Whatever Vera does, usually Margaret is there to try to do it too.”

For now, though, the family is still celebrating Vera’s remarkable feat.

“I’m so proud of Vera. She put in so much hard work to train for this,” Kevin Rivard said. “When she’s determined to do something, she does it and she really showed that.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

Correction

Owl’s Head ski area in southern Quebec is visible from Lake Memphremagog. The ski area was misidentified in an earlier photo caption with this story.