Umbagog Lake isn’t very deep, averaging a depth of 10 feet. In fact, Umbagog is said to come from the Abenaki word for “shallow water.”
But it is long — 10.4 miles long, in fact — as a 63-year-old Shirley man will find out this summer.
Swimming the length of the lake, which sits between Errol, N.H., and Upton, Maine, won’t be easy, but Mike Welsch rarely backs down from a challenge.
If he completes the Aug. 21 swim, Welsch will have swum across all of New Hampshire’s largest lakes.
Don’t bet against Welsch, who wears a prosthetic leg below his left knee following a 1980 motorcycle accident.
“You know something? Amputees are doing a lot of great things,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anyone on the face of the earth who has swam all these lakes. That’s my goal. I’m goal-oriented.”
The task is daunting. Swimming 10 miles in a giant lake wouldn’t be easy for a 20-year-old, never mind someone three times older. Welsch expects to be in pain, but quitting isn’t in his vocabulary.
“It’s the Marine Corps in me,” he said. “Just don’t quit.”
It’s taken decades, but Welsch says he’s swum across the Granite State’s largest lakes. Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, Sunapee, Squam and Wentworth are among the lakes Welsch has conquered. Umbagog will complete the list.
“I have to finish the last one,” he said.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, offered the greatest challenge.
Accompanied by two boats, Welsch began the 20-mile swim from Alton Bay at 10 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2005. Sixteen hours later, completely exhausted, he arrived in Meredith. At one point in the night he became lost before rediscovering his route.
“That was the toughest one,” he said. “My arms quivered for two days after that.”
A Boston native, the son of a Boston Police officer, Welsch isn’t sure why he’s infatuated with New Hampshire’s largest lakes.
“I love it up there,” he said.
Of course, swimming isn’t the only way he’s tested his body. He’s finished 10 Boston Marathons and he would have completed 11 had the bombings not occurred in 2013 and the race stopped.
To prepare for his Aug. 21 swim, Welsch has swum at Walden Pond in Concord and Sandy Pond in Ayer. Before he tackles Umbagog, Welsch will try to increase his endurance by swimming in Newfound Lake.
He trained at the Hanscom Air Force Base pool during the winter and spring.
“It’s all about the conditions,” he said. “I have no control over the conditions.”
He retired in 2020 after 15 years as a custodian in the Burlington school system. He has stayed busy in retirement, turning to woodworking and gardening — and swimming.
Welsch became disabled 42 years ago due to an alcohol-induced motorcycle accident not far from Camp Lejeune, a North Carolina Marines Corps base.
“It’s something I’ll pay for the rest of my life,” he said.
Welsch, who said he’s been sober for 33 years, has talked to students and prison inmates about his experiences — and mistakes.
“I feel like I’ve made a big impact with these people,” he said.
Welsch’s accomplishments include finishing the Boston Light Swim seven times. The 8-mile swim is held in Boston Harbor.
He was unable to finish an Ironman event once.
“That ruined me for a whole year,” he said. “I said, ‘I will never, ever quit a race again.’”
Welsch said he’s been “inspired by a lot of people,” including Carl Brashear, who became the Navy’s first African American master diver despite having a prosthetic limb. Brashear is the subject of the 2000 film “Men of Honor” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
Welsch underwent right knee replacement last year, forcing him to cut back on his activities. But he isn’t one to sit idle for long. He’s on to the next challenge, including his August swim at a lake that’s more than 10 miles long.