South Shore pair swim width of Lake Tahoe; Collins one of oldest to complete feat
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Roger Collins was one of the first documented swimmers to complete the length of Lake Tahoe and now he’s one of the oldest to ever swim the width.
On July 26 — a sunny, slightly hazy, smoky day with light wind and 69 to 71-degree water — the 65-year-old South Shore resident completed the 10.5-mile crossing from Cave Rock to Emerald Bay with his friend, 38-year-old Leo Loques.
Collins completed the swim almost 39 years to the exact date that he first swam the length of Tahoe (Aug. 1, 1979), when he became the third documented swimmer to complete the over 20-mile distance from Vista Marina at Kings Beach on the North Shore to Ski Run Marina on the South Shore. Collins, having completed the swim in 14 hours, 25 minutes, held the fastest pace for eight years until 1987.
“He is one of the pioneers of swimming across the lake,” said Tom Linthicum, who documents lake swims on his website http://www.laketahoemarathonswimfederation.com and was in a boat alongside Collins during the swim. “He’s pretty strong.”
Linthicum, 60, himself has swam the length of Tahoe three times and believed Collins was the oldest to swim the width until discovering another person, who is about six months older. He says most people who try to swim the width or length have success, but a lot of those who fail can’t get over the mental challenge.
“Most swimmers are ready when they get here to try it so I’d say the success rate is high,” Linthicum said. “A lot of it is mental. You have to see yourself doing it. It’s really a great training swim. People have used this to train for bigger swims like the English Channel.”
Collins and Loques had their share of challenges once they hit the water at about 6 a.m. For Collins, his biggest challenge came toward the end, battling the current getting into Emerald Bay.
“My wife who kayaked right beside me said it looked like I was going backward,” said Collins, a retired aviator and longtime lake resident who teaches guitar at Lake Tahoe Community College. “There was a lot of boat traffic. There’s a mile and half to go from mouth to the end. I just had to churn it out and push hard, it was a kick at the end.”
Loques, a native of Brazil and South Shore resident four about 12 years, completed the swim for the first time and found the mental challenge was his biggest adversary.
“I have never experienced a level of such self-inflicted pain,” said Loques, who grew up as a beach bum watching his father dive. “That broke my concentration. I wasn’t thinking of my strokes being effective, it just hurt. And I was stuck on that thought for a couple of miles. I tried to change and think about songs and whatever. The biggest thing was to control my mind and I failed but I still achieved my objective. I‘ll work on that for next time.”
The two, while supporting each other the whole way, also felt that competitive drive.
“We have egos of course,” Collins said.
For the first 4 miles, the pair basically swam together. Each swimmer had a support boat alongside, but they can’t make contact. The boat personnel can only provide food and drink. There were no flotation devices or wetsuits used, just shorts and swimcaps.
“It helped me stay calm seeing Roger close to me,” said Loques, a longtime bartender, who has started his own mobile wedding bar service called Liquid Craft Bartending.
Loques pulled ahead of Collins at about 5 miles.
“Leo pulled ahead but I figured I just had to ignore it and keep doing my thing,” Collins said.
Collins kicked into high gear around the 7- to 8-mile mark. He caught Loques and passed him.
“I was thinking I can’t let this guy win, he’s 65, I’m 38,” said Loques. “But he’s amazing. I stopped five times for food and water, and was hungry the whole time. This guy stopped twice for hot tea. For tea!”
Collins hit the Emerald Bay shoreline first in under six and a half hours.
About 30 minutes later, Loques came swimming into the bay and about 50 people had gathered to cheer on the final push — which gave Loques a burst of energy.
“It was cool. Adrenalin kicked in and I sprinted through that last 100 yards,” Loques said.
After getting their land legs back under them, the duo felt extremely satisfied after five months of early morning swims at the recreation center and early season cold water training.
“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” said Collins. “It was like the first time I swam it, the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, getting a black belt in karate, those all felt the same way. To finish feels so good.”
“Even though the pain was there, I never considered stopping,” Loques said. “I knew I would make it. I knew I wasn’t going to drown and the only thing that could take me out was the cold and the cold was good at times. It was by far the coolest thing I have ever done.”
Completing the width has Loques stoked to try the length next year.
But Collins is satisfied with finishing the length a year before his friend was born.
“I’m not gonna do that again,” Collins said. “I snowboard in the winter, mountain bike in the summer to try and stay healthy. I wanna die with all my original parts.”