Neal Phelps, first documented swimmer to cross Bear Lake
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Jul. 22--HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- It took Neal Phelps a grueling 13 hours to swim across Bear Lake, but fighting against the current is nothing new for the 56-year-old Layton resident.
On July 18, Phelps swam the length of Bear Lake from Idaho to Utah, a 20-plus-mile test of endurance in 64 degree water.
Layton resident Dan Putnam, who monitored Phelps from a boat during his swim, said from shore to shore, the distance is just over 18 miles, but due to choppy water and winds,Phelps had some difficulty swimming in a straight line.
"Believe it or not, the water current was pretty strong,"Phelps said. "It was tough to stay completely level. It was a battle."
Phelps has had his fair share of battles during his life.
In 1996, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and eventually had four brain surgeries to remove tumors.
"I was first diagnosed and had an operation, but then a year later, they found three more cancerous nodules that they had to cut out," Phelps said. During his bout with the disease,Phelps not only endured the cancer treatment that included the surgeries, but also suffered through severe anxiety and epileptic seizures.
"It was a tough time for me and my family especially," he said. "They never knew when I was going to drop down and fall to the floor from a seizure."
Phelps has worked at Hill Air Force Base for 21 years and currently serves as an Aerospace Engineering Branch chief.He has been cancer-free for 11 years and decided to celebrate by testing himself physically to prove he had fully beaten the disease.
"I guess in a way it was kind of like a midlife crisis," Phelps said. "My wife was glad I chose the swim, because it was a lot cheaper than a sports car."
Phelps said he was partly inspired to do the Bear Lake challenge by another swimmer who shares the same last name.
"It all started after I saw Michael Phelps in the Olympics," hesaid, quick to point out there is no relation between him and the swimmer who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. "I knew I couldn't win an Olympic gold, but I thought there was something out there I could do. Swimming Bear Lake was what came to mind."
Soon after the Olympics, Phelps began training daily at the pool at the Hess Fitness Center on base.He also did a 9-mile swim at Willard Bay in preparation for Bear Lake.
The 13-hour swim began at North Beach in Idaho at 7 a.m. and ended at Rendezvous Beach after 8 p.m.
After the swim, Phelps was cold, exhausted and badly sunburned.
"The last five miles felt like 100," Phelps said.
When asked if he'd ever attempt the lengthy swim again, hesaid he felt like he didn't need to.