Mile Swim


The Mile Swim is not a merit badge, it isn’t worn on the uniform. It is a small patch, to be sewn on the swimming suit. Something to do at summer camp usually, an extra for an older Scout who is a strong swimmer.

The border of the buddy tag is broken out into sections, designed to be colored in if the Scout swims that far. I have never seen the edge colored in except when the whole mile is done, and then it always colored in with black, so the tag stands out on the buddy board.
You had to have 4 hours of swimming prep time, usually done with an early morning swim every day at camp. This weeded out the posers, because you had to get up early, get to the waterfront by 0700, and swim for an hour, then race back, change and join the Troop at the morning flag ceremony in front of the chowhall.

If you got up every morning and made the swim, you got to attempt the mile on Friday. Where I camped as a Scout, there were three guard towers and three “H” docks at different points around the lake. The mile swim was done by making the triangle between them. Starting at the Area 3 swimmer’s area, you moved out beyond the ropes, swam across to area 1, then turned inside the ropes and swam a longer leg to Area 2. Ducking under those ropes, you then turned on the longest leg, along the marshy section back to your starting point at Area 3. Never resting, never touching the boat or the bottom, you didn’t have to go fast, but you had to keep swimming.

The swim was made behind a rowboat, so if you failed, there was a tow back to shore.
It was so different out beyond the docks and the floating platforms, swimming alone out into the lake. A mile is a long enough distance that you tire, switch strokes to conserve some energy. I would use the sidestroke out along the long distances because it’s easy to glide and breathe. The sound of the oars creaking and thumping set a rhythm. Time seemed to stretch out, there was only the lake, the receding back of the rowboat and the sky.

Finally you pass back under the ropes where you started. You climb out and walk down the dock to the tower. The Staff member looks at you, shakes your hand, and fills out the card for you to give your Scoutmaster. More importantly, he goes over to the buddy board and takes your tag down and colors the border with a black marker.

At the end of the week, after the last free swim period, I took my tag with me. 40 years later, that paper tag sits in a box with the rest of my Scout awards, a set of chevrons from each rank I held in the Marine Corps, and the rest of the mementos I have accumulated and can’t quite bring myself to throw away. Not a merit badge, but still a goal faced and achieved by a young Scout, and remembered by an old man with pleasure and pride.

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
–Edmund Hillary

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4 thoughts on “Mile Swim

  1. Ah, the mile swim, I remember it well. The summer of 1971, Conchas Lake in eastern New Mexico. I got my swimming, life saving, rowing, canoeing merit badges and at the end of the week, the Mile swim. We had to swim way out to this neck in the lake and then swim back. The water near this neck was very deep and the water there very cold. I think it’s quite the accomplishment to say you can swim a mile.
    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  2. The picture on my post – Scouting Sunrise- was taken on at the Mile Swim prep at Worth Ranch.
    They don't have a lake so the Swim is done in the pool …lots of laps.

    I admire the dedication of the boys that woke up early each morning to do that swim. Both my sons accomplished the Mile Swim. Me on the other hand never did, as a boy or adult. I swam like a rock.

  3. One mile in an Olympic size pool is 70 laps (or 35 if you count up and down as one lap). I try to swim 5 miles a week. At my best I can swim 2.5 in one day…

    …but it took a long time to build up to that. I can't imagine being a kid and trying to swim a mile in a murky lake or a pool.

  4. Conservativeflix,

    The difference in the boys after the Mile Swim is absolutely amazing.

    Their confidence level goes through the roof without them even realizing it. Even the kids that don't make it are often more confident.

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