'It's Just Digging Down Deep': Marathon Swimmer Talks Of Toughest Tests In Her 60s

Feb 11, 2019

Vermont Edition's ad-hoc series interviewing Interesting Vermonters has led us to a 106-year-old man from Townshend, the rose-sharing traditons of a Charlotte farmer and the maple syrup-swilling (unofficial) mayor of East Dover.

Now Warren's Sue-Ellen Booher is the latest Interesting Vermonter, a hematology nurse navigator at the Cancer Center at UVM Medical Center who's also a marathon swimmer.

Booher sat down with VPR's Ric Cengeri at the Swimming Hole, an indoor swimming facility in Stowe, to share what she does for a living and how she took up the grueling pastime of swimming marathons.

"I'm entrusted with the care of new patients with hematologic malignancies, so blood cancers," Booher explained about her work. "I'm the first person they talk to, so a lot of it is putting their mind at ease that they're in the system, someone's looking after them, trying to get them expeditious care."

Because she lives 50 minutes from Stowe, Booher needs to wake up around 4:45 a.m. to practice her swimming. She gets to the pool by 6 o'clock, where her coach, Charlotte Brynn, has her workout ready.

Sue-Ellen and her swim buddies will go through their routine until around 7 a.m., at which time she needs to get to Waterbury to catch the bus to Burlington for work. 

It's a demanding schedule, but nowhere near as grueling as the endurance tests she has put herself through in marathon swimming events.

"You feel so much better doing something athletic every day." - Sue-Ellen Booher

Her resume includes marathon swims on Lake Memphremagog, Seymour Lake and Quebec's Lake Massawippi.

And then there was last year's SCAR Swim Series, a four-day event that takes place in the reservoirs of Arizona's Salt River.

Booher, who is modest about her aquatic accomplishments called SCAR "very intimidating." Only around 40 people participated in last year's swim and she became the oldest to ever complete it at age 64.

Booher, who has run four marathons in her life, is currently battling a shoulder injury but hopes that doesn't stop her long-distance swims.

"You feel so much better doing something athletic every day," she says. "For me, this is just working out to a sport that I enjoy the people, it gets me out of bed in the morning, I stick to a routine."

Broadcast live on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.