If Kathy Pelton had been swimming in the Atlantic Ocean for the past 34 years rather than in a swimming pool, she could have been to Europe and partway back by now.
The 61-year-old, who faithfully keeps track of the distance she swims, just passed the 5,000-mile mark.
Pelton decided to give swimming a try when she lived in Rotterdam and her children were small. A neighbor invited her to the pool at the Schenectady YWCA, and she went along. Once there, she was intrigued by the lap swimmers. She locked in on one in particular — Lorraine LaPointe — who began swimming a mile a day, five days a week, in the YWCA pool in 1962. In 1999, at age 81, she was honored for swimming 6,000 miles.
“She just went back and forth and back and forth, and I was just fascinated. So really, watching her was what got me started with the lapping,” Pelton said.
When she tried her hand at it, Pelton realized it wasn’t as easy as LaPointe made it look.
“I remember I would swim one length to the other end of the pool and I would have to stop and rest, so it was definitely a gradual process,” she recalled.
Once she built up the endurance to swim a quarter-mile, Pelton started to keep track of her progress on a chart provided by the American Red Cross.
“I marked my first 50 miles in 1979, and then it took me 10 years to reach my first 1,000,” she said.
These days, she swims in the Olympic-size pool at the Duanesburg Area Community Center and does 1 1/2 miles at a clip. It takes her about an hour, and she admits that going back and forth, over and over, can get boring, but she mixes it up with stroke changes.
“It’s nine laps to the quarter-mile, so I work with that number, nine, and I repeat mantras and sort of use it for meditation time,” she said.
Pelton’s ultimate goal is to hit the 7,000-mile mark, for her own personal satisfaction and also in honor of LaPointe, who stopped swimming just short of 7,000 miles.
“In my heart, I want to finish that 7,000 for both of us, because she was my idol,” she said.
Pelton, who received a Lifetime Fitness Award from the YWCA in 2007, isn’t sure why swimming appeals to her, but she does know it gives her a wonderful sense of well-being.
“I think it’s the endorphin thing. You just feel better for it,” she said.
Just as she was inspired by LaPointe, Pelton now serves as an inspiration. She writes monthly articles that detail community center members’ fitness goals and how coming to the center has bettered their lives. She also started a swimmers’ log at the center. Every time a swimmer reaches the 50-mile mark, they get a red dot on the chart.
“It’s really fun, inspiring people,” she said. “You never start out thinking that you’re going to swim 5,000 miles in your life. You start out with one stroke and before you know it, it adds up, and here I am 34 years later and still doing it.”
Susan Kamiler, director of the Duanesburg Area Community Center, said Pelton is one of her favorite members.
“She’s just a terrific lady,” she said. “She’s a huge proponent of our center and our mission and everything that we stand for. She’s just a delight in every aspect.”