I came across an article in a recent issue of the Keith County News about a young man who swam the length of Lake McConaughy in 1968.
I’d never heard of such an accomplishment, but the article (by KCN staff writer Kenneth Lipp) indicated that it was the first time anyone had ever accomplished such a feat. No wonder. The swimmer, Scott Skultety of Omaha, had to travel 21 miles from the west end of the reservoir to Kingsley Dam. It took the 17-year-old 11-½ hours to cover that distance.
Now, for someone who admittedly swims like a rock, I was duly impressed by such an accomplishment. My first musings were: 1) Has anyone completed such a swim since 1968? And, 2) Why would someone attempt such a challenge?
As to the first question, an internet search of long-distance swims at Lake McConaughy turned up nothing other than a reference to a planned swim by a marathon swimmer in 2017, but I could find nothing to confirm that such a swim ever took place.
The answer to the second question involves some speculation on my part, but I think it probably comes down to the reason for many other such feats. “Because it’s there.”
In March 1923, a British mountain climber by the name of George Mallory was trying to raise money for an expedition to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. At the time, no one had ever conquered the highest mountain on earth. Mallory had failed on to previous attempts to reach the summit twice, but was undeterred.
When asked by a New York Times reporter why he wanted to climb Everest, his response was simply, “Because it’s there.”
From that seemingly frivolous remark, Mallory expanded in a manner that perhaps best explains the reasons for “why?” And perhaps it explains why a lot of other such attempts are made to reach seemingly impossible goals.
“Everest is the highest mountain in the world and no man has reached its summit,” he said. “Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”
Mallory and his climbing partner sought to quench that desire in 1924, but it cost the pair their lives. Witnesses saw them make it to within a thousand feet of the summit, but then lost sight of them. They were never seen again.
Successfully reaching the summit of Mount Everest had to wait until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay reached the top.
I don’t know if young Mr. Skultety was inspired by such notions; the article didn’t address the “why” question. But again, it was quite a feat. Lake McConaughy is known for becoming suddenly unfriendly to boaters and swimmers alike if a sudden storm should blow up. When the wind blows, the waves can become an issue. Perhaps the weather forecast and the water conditions were perfect for such an adventure and he certainly didn’t have to contend with sharks, jellyfish or other such dangers (other than perhaps a careless boater running over him in mid-swim).
None of that diminishes his accomplishment. Come on, it was more than 21 MILES! Now, I’m aware that lots of other people compete in events that require long-distance swimming (as well as running and biking), but like I said, I’m not aware of anyone else swimming the length of the lake. (If someone sees this post, and knows of such an accomplishment, I’d love to hear the details.)
Skultety went on to swim competitively for Kansas University and, in fact, was the 1971 Big Eight Conference swimmer of the year, but he noted in the KCN article that none of his other accomplishments has been so enduring.
Even if someone else has swam the length of Lake McConaughy since that August day in 1968, he’ll always be the first to accomplish such an exploit.