The purpose of the effort was to raise funds for 9-year-old Ricky Geyer, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2007. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that attacks the lungs and pancreas. Ricky’s father, Ric, first completed this swim in 2008 with only five swimmers, using his son’s illness to propel him across the lake.
Just before 7 a.m. Noah and I arrived at the Yacht Club, and met Ric Geyer, and the other 12 swimmers. Captain Mike Stevens idled his SeaRay40 to the dock for loading. Masters swimmer Derek Weaver brought two tall lifeguard friends to join us, both college swimmers. Later Ric Geyer said, “They both resembled Michael Phelps, so we took ‘em with us.” Noah kissed me goodbye and wished us luck.
We each found a spot on board for our swim gear, and enjoyed the view and ride to Harsens Island. Bill Baedke, driving a bright yellow three-person Seadoo to help corral the group, met us at near Harsens. After suiting up, we jumped into the fresh water and all swam over to a sandy area where we could touch. I wore a bright green swim cap (thanks to the Milford Swim Meet), Blue Seventy Nero swim suit and metallic goggles. As I had done in several swims this summer, I started my Garmin 310xt GPS watch, and placed it in my swim cap, resting on my head. I wouldn’t know distance during the swim, but knew at the finish, it would give us not only an exact distance, but a nice memory and map of our course. I had my Timex watch on my left arm so I could time the feedings. The water temperature felt like it was in the low to mid 70s. Ric thanked us for being there and nine of us started the big swim at 8:45 a.m. The temperature was 69 degrees and winds were SE at almost 6 mph.
My goal was to swim as far as I could but I thought I’d be pleased with nine or ten miles. This summer I completed several five and six mile training swims in Tawas Bay, Lake Huron, the Motor City 5k on July 7, a Traverse City 2 mi race on July 10, the 10k U.S. Masters National Championship in Noblesville, Indiana on July 17 (2:45.30), and the Harbor Springs 3 mile event (1:10.57) on August 1. I spent time training in cold water in April and May, done a warm 10k (Indy), and trained in the cool and refreshing Georgian Bay in August. I was ready for something bigger.
We started swimming west, sighting the two South Channel lights. From there, we swam southwest, towards the Nine Mile Tower, located off Jefferson, about a mile north of the Grosse Point Yacht Club. By this time, the southwest winds had picked up to 10 mph and the 1-3 foot waves were attacking head on. I swam in a pack with Blake Kenney, Sebastian and Billy (the college swimmers). After one hour in the water, we stopped for nutrition. I treaded water near the boat and one of the awesome swimmers handed me a few “Clif Shot Bloks,” chewable energy cubes and my water bottle, carrying Banana Berry (Recovery) Pure Sport.
Several of the swimmers climbed aboard the boat, and a few fresh bodies dove in. Captain Stevens wanted to limit the number of swimmers in the water to six or seven at a time. About two hours into the swim, the college boys were complaining of chafing. Since they hadn’t heard of Body Glide (anti-chafe balm packaged like deodorant), I told them where they could find mine. Billy said that Derek was paying him $50 if he didn’t touch the boat. Billy’s legs cramped up soon after and Bill’s jet ski took him back to the boat for a break. With the absence of Billy, our lead pack was down to three.
Just before noon, the winds were coming from the southwest at 16 mph, with gusts up to 23 mph. I was more thankful for Blake Kenny’s green cap about six miles into the larger waves. He was easy to spot from the crest of the wave, and so was Nine Mile Tower. Captain Mike Stevens’ son, Pete, dove in for some water time and staying with us in front. Every 20 minutes or so, we stopped to tread water and wait for others to catch up. We watched freighters in the shipping lanes, off to the southeast. The Renaissance Center towers were becoming more visable in the haze but Nine Mile Tower never seemed to grow larger. I thought it looked like a little brown Lego tower.
We were trying to pause for feedings every 45 minutes. Swimmers climbed out for sandwiches, bananas, drinks and to exchange relay members. The men on board were great, tossing me bottles, bananas and blocks. I tried to tread near the stern, or hang onto the ladder but on many occasions, the boat rose with the waves, and forcefully slammed down, causing me to swim away quickly. About five hours into the swim (~4 hrs of actual swim time), I started to get grumpy. During that stretch, I tried two bites of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, but couldn’t swallow it. I stuck to bananas, energy chews and drinks (water, Gatorade, Pure Sport). A little later I came in for a feeding, and asked for Shot Bloks and heard one of the guys on board say, “What are those?” Another guy answered him, “Gum drops. Find her gum drops.” I had to smile.
We swam through giant splotches of floating seaweed, often four to five feet long patches. Pete, who did a lot of breaststroke, came up through a patch, resulting in a leaf like wig. I never saw any fish, but other swimmers said they saw flashes of silver and thought they were muskies.
A few times we had to stick with Bill and his comforting yellow jet ski while others climbed on board the boat, which sped up to catch us. When I hit six hours, I thought, “swimming six hours is crazy. If I hit seven, that will be good.” That’s when we saw the media helicopter hovering above us, filming some of our last few miles. We all said, “no more treading, we gotta swim, we’re on tv.”
At seven hours, I got teary eyed and thought, “I’m really going to finish this!” I thought of all the mileage I had put in this summer and the back pain and cortisone injections that have kept me waterlogged. Then I thought, “They said we’d be done in eight hours, so I can go another hour but if I see another Shot Blok, I’ll throw up.” At eight hours, we were finally closing in on the white towers of the Grosse Point Yacht Club. Sebastian, Pete, Blake, Billy and I figured we had 45 minutes to go. The last two hours, I had mainly water and Gatorade with a banana bite. I wanted to see land more than food.
Around 8 hrs 35 minutes, Derek told us to hold up and wait for the others, so we could swim in together. While treading, we saw people on the docks of the yacht club but couldn’t tell who they were. Turns out, Cheryl Dehn and Noah were watching us finish. That’s also when Derek told us that we were almost run over by three boats that weren’t looking for swimmers in the water. The boat caught up to us, and one of the guys signaled the finishing line with his arm at 5:30 p.m. Mike Stevens said it wasn’t safe to swim all the way into the harbor, since boats were whizzing by and not seeing us. Since I had swam the whole way without getting out, they told me to stretch before climbing out. I was unsure of how my back and body would adjust to being vertical.
While climbing each ladder rung, I started to sense a feeling of utter joy and accomplishment, overshadowing exhaustion and fatigue. My watch said our water time was eight hours and 40 minutes. Someone threw a towel at me and we swapped hugs, high fives and recovery shakes. That’s when the guys told me they nicknamed me “La Machine.” I pulled my cap off and stopped the Garmin watch. My jaw dropped when I saw the distance—14.21 miles. I passed the watch around. When we got back to the dock, loved ones were waiting. I spotted Noah and Cheryl cheering our arrival. I slowly walked down below to get my swim bag. That’s when I saw the cake crumbles, chips, pop and other goodies that were consumed during this adventure. I shouted, “You guys ate cake while I swam?” One of the guys smiled and said, “Sure did. We saved you a piece.”
Noah took my bags and arms and helped me climb out of the boat and onto the dock. Noah and Cheryl got big hugs and of course, the question was asked, “How far did ya swim?” I smiled and said, “the whole way.” I got to meet Ricky, who posed for pictures with us on the boat. I showered at the Yacht Club but shampooing was very difficult. Noah and I headed to Fishbones to eat a nice dinner with several swimmers and share stories from our adventure.
Mike Stevens was a terrific captian, Bill Baedke was invaluable as jet ski accompaniment & support and the swimmers were inspirational. I am so lucky and thankful to have Noah by my side while training and dreaming of these swims.
If you can donate any amount to Rickie’s Medical Fund, it would be appreciated (www.swimmingstclair.com). If you are interested in learning more about the disease, or in donating to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, please go to www.cff.org.