Diving into the deep end: Zoe Thompson’s triumphant return

After four-year layoff, she swims 5K in chilly Penobscot Bay.


Island resident Zoe Thompson’s been busy. In addition to raising a 3½-year-old and an 18-month-old, she answered a recurring tug this spring: a return to swimming.

“It’s my only athletic activity. I don’t run or bike, and I wanted to get back to it,” she told the Times. Thompson jumped into the deep end of the pool several months ago, and on August 12, she raised $5,300 for a Maine lifeflight service by swimming 3.1 miles (5K) in chilly Penobscot Bay and finishing solidly in the middle of a pack of 150 swimmers.

Thompson swam the distance for the Isleboro (Me.) Crossing for Lifeflight, an accomplishment that led her Island swim coach, Jen Passafiume, to contact the Times.

“After having two kids, Zoe wanted a goal to help her get back into the water and start swimming again. She choose the Isleboro Crossing for Lifeflight because it was the location of her wedding, and her in-laws live in the area. She felt like it was the perfect goal,” Passafiume said in an email to the Times.

“Zoe began her swim training back in April to get ready for the hefty distance. She swam four days a week, slowly building up her distance and strength. Every swimmer was required to have a kayaker next to them, so I was able to get her from the start of her training program literally all the way to the finish line. Zoe completed the 3.1-mile swim in 1 hour, 38 minutes,” Passafiume said.

Thompson has swum in the past with a master’s group at the Mansion House pool in Vineyard Haven, but she’d been out of the pool for four years. She got support from coaches and swimmers with wisdom who frequent the Y pool. “Les Cutler told me to set a goal, a good way to motivate yourself and to measure your progress,” she said.

“I picked the Isleboro swim because, though it felt like a hard goal, it’s where we got married, and my in-laws live there. As I trained with Jen in the pool and was mentored by Les and by Leslie Craven, I began to think it was attainable. Then warm weather came, and I started ocean swimming, and life got real,” she chuckled.

“It’s been a profound experience, a family and community effort. My husband Simon took the kids every morning so I could practice, and the help I got from Les and Leslie and the structure Jen provided was essential.

“I turned 40 this year. I’ve had two babies, so I knew I could do anything, but I felt empowered, that my body was strong, especially after being out of the loop for four years. I’m definitely hooked on events now, and the focus and structure that reconnected me to swimming. And I’m a better wife and mother to be around,” she said.