St. John Valley

Teacher counters pandemic ‘distancing’ by swimming across Eagle Lake 20 times

FORT KENT, Maine — When it comes to the age old question, “What did you do during summer vacation?” Fort Kent educator Robert Daigle may very well have a more interesting response than many of his students.

Daigle, a 51-year-old French teacher at Fort Kent Community High School and Valley Rivers Middle School, completed 20 successful swims across Eagle Lake this summer.

“With all the stay-at-home orders, it’s important to find things to do to keep ourselves healthy,” Daigle said. 

He added that he has been crossing the lake back and forth near the Daigle family camp, located on the Sly Brook side of Eagle Lake, since the early 1990s. 

“I usually try to do it at least once a summer,” he said. “This year I was thinking of doing 19 crossings for Covid-19, but decided instead to do 20 for 2020.”

The point at which Daigle crosses stretches 610 meters from shore to shore, east to west, for a total of more than 1,200 meters for each swim session.  

“About three-fourths of the way across the lake you have to swim through the river current that runs through the lake,” Daigle said. “Sometimes it can be pretty strong.”

Robert Daigle, a French teacher at Fort Kent Community High School and Valley Rivers Middle School swims 610 meters across Eagle Lake on Sunday, Aug. 23. (Courtesy of John Kaleta)

Daigle said it took him about 15 minutes to cross each way when the waves were not too bad.

“One day in white capped waters, it was a lot harder to cross,” he said. “The waves kept pushing me away from my target and it took a lot of effort to get back home.”

Throughout the 20 crossings Daigle did not meet up with any giant northern Maine muskies, but “did have a few encounters with some humongous logs left over from the days of driving logs on the lake.” 

“When I encounter them, my heart often skips a beat, simply because you don’t expect to see something that big suddenly appear in your goggles,” Daigle said. 

Daigle was also accompanied by a pair of loons on many of his swims. 

“My family says they swim right beside me,” he said. “Sometimes I see them, sometimes I don’t.”

The 2019 Maine Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, Daigle said he enjoyed the quiet, alone time he experienced during the swims. 

“I think many athletes who participate in individual sports like running, cycling, swimming or cross-country skiing enjoy the time to be alone with their thoughts,” Daigle said. “Some of my best lesson plans come from a swim, or a run or a cross-country ski outing.”

Daigle completed his 20th crossing on Monday, Aug. 24, accompanied by a slew of supportive SAD 27 colleagues. 

Fort Kent educators Margaret Guimond and Leslie Marquis and district athletic director Eric Werntgen joined Daigle in his final crossing. Educators Donald Chouinard, Sarah Mulcahy, Danielle Reardon, Curt Harvey and Sylvia Dow-Harvey kayaked alongside the swimmers that day.  

“It was the type of wonderful camaraderie that is so typical of the SAD 27 staff,” Daigle said. 

Principal John Kaleta accompanied Daigle on a crossing the day before, during which Daigle attempted to do two crossings in one day. 

“I discovered that I can do it,” Daigle said, adding that he was quite tired after and slept very well that night. “My wife says I was breathing very loudly, like Darth Vader,” he added. 

Daigle said he hopes others might be inspired by his achievement to find an activity to help them be more physically active in the coming year. 

“In this time of pandemic, there are a lot of factors that we cannot control, but by doing more physical activity, we can improve our general overall health and give our bodies a better fighting chance when faced with illness,” Daigle said. “Not everyone needs to swim 1,200 meters in open lake water.  Somebody else’s lake crossing may be going for more walks with the dog, biking, or going to the cross-fit gym.”

Daigle said he may set another goal to swim across Eagle Lake 21 times in 2021, but for now he is “wicked happy to switch back to running for a while.”

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.