August 12, 2013

Amputee swims to Valcour Island

PLATTSBURGH — Tim Ayres left his lakeside Plattsburgh home one day last week and entered the waters of Lake Champlain.

His backstroke had soon carried him far from shore. But there was still a long way to go.

He was swimming to Valcour Island, about a mile away.

What makes it more remarkable is that Ayres is 68 years old and several years ago lost his left leg below the knee.

He swims with the strength of his arms alone.

“I used to be able to swim every way, but with one leg, I lose balance when I try other strokes,” he said.

So, Ayres stays with the elementary backstroke.


In 2006, Ayres suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm that required emergency surgery. Complications led to the removal of his lower left leg.

“You immediately go to therapy, and a doctor recommended I go to see a guy named Jay Rigsbee.”

Rigsbee had been in the Navy, where he was injured and received therapy. Then, he decided to become a therapist himself.

When Ayres met him, Rigsbee was working at CVPH Wellness Center at PARC, an institution for which Ayres has nothing but praise.

“At CVPH, I’ve always been treated the best. And I am an advocate for (the Wellness Center). The therapists, the people at the desk, the patients — everybody seems to be in a good mood there.”

Without the help he received there, Ayres said, his swim to Valcour Island would never have happened.


At the Wellness Center, Rigsbee provided the physical therapy that Ayres needed following his surgery and also addressed back problems that the man has suffered from since a skiing accident as a teenager.

About three months into the therapy, Rigsbee introduced swimming.

“He said, ‘Get your oldest leg, put it on, and meet me at the pool.’”

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