Monday, July 23, 2012

#5 is in the books...

So, in spite of the swarm of black flies, 102 degree temperatures and the ever present southwest winds, we managed to successfully cross the lake.  The heat wasn't as bad as you might imagine, but the flies were worse.  And the waves? Well, let's just say that next year the consensus seems to be that we'll swim with the waves - even though they most often move in the opposite direction of the current.   According to our captain, the surface water will be moving towards the Northeast, and hopefully it will be moving faster than the current we need to overcome.  We all hope he's right...

This year started ominously, with calls for 102 degree temperatures and thundershowers.  Luckily the rain never materialized, and we settled in to an otherwise great day.  We had 2 new swimmers this year - Fares Ksebati and Sara Hughes.  We lost a few of our regulars to injuries and work this year.  We figured that with the exception of the rookies, we had about 2 good bodies between us, given the number of sore shoulders, bad backs, ligaments, tears, sprains, and even hernias among us.  This is not for the faint of heart.

Three of us started the swim, and then we traded off during the crossing. In the photo you can see the small inflatable we had this year instead of the Seadoos.  It was great to have it, but the Seadoos were still my favorite.  They were there instantly when you needed them.

Though the photos don't seem to convey the power of the waves, it felt as if you were being swamped on every stroke.  This year they were gentle rollers, but even if you timed it just right, it always felt like you were getting smacked every time you hit the other side. Several swimmers again attempted the breaststroke, or would swim underwater into the biggest waves, but it makes for a much longer day...

It was just another long, tiring, wonderful day.  I swam probably 7-8 miles this year, way down from my typical mileage.  Several swimmers swam more mileage, and just about everyone swam more than they expected.  Once you get into a rhythm, it just sort of happens.  We all swam a number of legs - getting out when the waves had battered you enough.  One of our issues is the difference in speeds - Fares at one point seemed to be at about a 20 minute mile pace, which is incredibly fast.  Most of the rest of us were slugging it out somewhere around a 30+ minute pace, although Sara turned out to be a very strong swimmer as well. So it was always refreshing to get in the boat and watch the faster swimmers crank it out. 
In general, swimmers are in great shape, and it shows.  The picture shows one of our swimmers entering the water in perfect form...  Rickie had a blast and was able to get in and swim with us for a couple of short stretches.  His health is great, but it requires a lot of attention on our part, and diligence on his. He still does his vest twice a day and takes a variety of medications.

The beauty is that because of the continuing work by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, his health and his numbers are staying in a great place. I often wonder how it must feel to be in his shoes.  He takes it all in and nothing seems to slow him down.  He attacks life with a vengeance - which is part of the reason he will always be one of my greatest heroes.

Thanks again for all your support. It means everything to us.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Two Weeks Out...

This time will be a little tougher...
Turns out we don't have the Seadoos we expected.  They are on a motorcycle trip to Montana during the swim.  We have arranged for a second boat, but not having those Seadoos around will make it a little more uncomfortable. Here we are before the start - laying out our strategy - or just telling jokes...

Last year was a very good run.  We did have trouble at the outset, with 10-15 knot winds directly in our faces.  Swimming 14 miles on calm water is enough of a challenge - but swimming into whitecaps is too much.So we made the decision to head due west and pick it up closer to shore, hoping to get protection from the wind.  We all climbed back in the boats and motored west.  Our new course proved to be about 2 miles shorter, or 12.2 miles.

So we climbed back out and started our swim in earnest.  As you can see from the photo below, our time (Jenni's time) was astounding for the conditions.  Just over 12 miles in just over 6 hours is not rocket fast, but into the wind and waves we faced was very impressive.  Jenni was the only one to make it the entire 12 miles.  The rest of us all clocked at least 6 miles, with Blake Kenny and I both logging 10+ miles.

Jenni - nearing the finish
Jenni is a machine.  In fact, after the first two miles, I was still feeling pretty good. Even though I couldn't see any other swimmers, I felt my speed was excellent.  That is, until the Seadoo came by and picked me up - they had to get me back up to the front - Jenni was 1/2 mile ahead of me. Humbling experience...

So, here's how it works...

We start at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club at about 7:20am.  We motor to Harsen's Island (just south of it, off the west tip of Gull Island) and then about half of us get in the water.  The first half mile is exhilarating.  We usually stop at the two South Channel lighthouses, which were markers for the original channel through to Lake Huron, which was located to the west of Harsen's Island.  You can see them both in this picture.  But sometime in the 1800's (two centuries ago?), a new channel was dredged out on the east side of Harsen's Island which carries all the freighter traffic now.  The two lighthouses have been ravaged by the wind and water, but have been rebuilt and saved as historical sites.  They are certainly worth motoring out to see.

From the lighthouses, we head southsouthwest, aiming at the nine mile tower just off Jefferson Avenue.  It is an apartment tower, but for us it is a beacon.  We look at that structure for almost 5 hours.  You can swim 2-3 hours directly at it and it looks exactly the same size.  It is aggravating, but very helpful to us as swimmers.  Normally you can't really see anything because of the waves, but if you lift your head way up, you can catch a glimpse. It is nice to know that if you ever lost the boat, you'd have a marker to follow.

Every 30 minutes or so, someone will signal that they want to come in.  And if you're tired, you take a break.  We swap swimmers back and forth all the time.  If you're not tired, or if you're just trying to gut it out for a while longer, you stay in the water and wait for the next call.  The Seadoos were great because if you ever got really tired, you could raise your hand and one of them would come out and pick you up.  They were awesome, and a real confidence builder for a lot of folks.

That's pretty much the way it is the whole day. You swim until you're tired, then get out and get a drink or an energy bar or fruit, etc.  And while you're out in the boat, depending on the wind, you battle flies.  If the wind is coming on our nose at 10 knots - it is horrible for the swimmers but great for the people on the boat because the flies are very manageable.  But if the wind is coming from our backs at just a couple of knots, which would be perfect for the swimmers, it is brutal for the people on board.  The flies can get aggressive and obnoxious.  And if the wind is just right, they are everywhere...

But there is something about being on the water all day that is invigorating.  It's the water and the wind, and the camaraderie of being around people who are all volunteering for something.  There are no egos, no problems, no issues that last longer than about 30 seconds.  What people who haven't yet spent a lot of time on boats don't realize is that the captain is the supreme being on board.  What he says goes.  At least in theory.

But with our captain and crew, it is an awesome day.  We get tired, we get cranky, we swim until it feels like your arms are going to fall off, we run into patches of water that are just frigid, we swim through seaweed, we get bit by flies, we run out of water and fruit...  And we have a blast.  It is hard to explain, but I wouldn't miss being with these people every year.  It has become like a marker in my life.  No matter how everything else changes and no matter how crazy everything seems to get, we always swim across the lake.  This is our fifth year, and I think a pivotal one.  We only really talked about 5 years of this.  We'll let you know how we feel after we finish this one...

But before I close, I'd like to mention a couple of other things.  First, Mike Stevens has stepped up every year for 5 years with a wonderful boat that comes stocked with water, drinks, food, etc.  He does this year after year and then on top of that we give him grief the whole day.
His company, Corporate Fleet Services,  has been  our lead sponsor ever since the races inception, and we thank him for that.  And this year, we've picked up a second sponsor, so thanks to the SwimSpray folks for helping out as well.  And on behalf of the whole team, we'd like to thank you for your support.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5th Annual SwimmingStClair Fundraiser 

To those of you who have been following us and have been active fundraising participants, “We Salute You”.  Without you this doesn’t work - we appreciate your continued support. 

On Tuesday, July 17th, 2012, a small group of adventurers who clearly exhibit more persistence than brains will again attempt to swim the length of Lake St Clair, beginning just south of the Old Club on Harsen’s Island, and ending at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.  Normally I would say, “if the weather cooperates”, but our last 4 swims have each brought unique weather-related challenges, so I won’t bother.  However, I will say that if the wind once again comes out of the southwest, it will make for another challenging year. 

Our chase boat will again be donated and captained by Mike Stevens, who will also be one of the swimmers, though this year Mr. Blake Kenny may also be “with boat”…  They, along with the 4 crazed Seadoo pilots, will stay with us as we make our way on what was last year a weather-shortened 12.5 mile, 7 hour swim.  Our hope is to make it the entire 14.2 miles again this year.  We are hoping to avoid the driving rain, lightning and hail that characterized 2009’s swim, and the relentless winds coming out of southwest that pounded us in 2010 and 2011.   

The purpose of our effort is to bring more attention to those afflicted with cystic fibrosis and to raise funds for Rickie’s Medical Trust Fund.  Rickie, who is just about to turn 11, was diagnosed with cf on October 12th, 2007.  Cf is a hereditary disease that attacks the lungs and the pancreas.  It eventually blocks air flow in the lungs, and can also block the ability of the body to pull necessary nutrients from food. The good news is that the national cf foundation is making tremendous progress in developing medicines – the average lifespan of cf patients is now nearly 40 years, up from about 17 years less than 25 years ago.  The bad news is that it is still a deadly disease.  The lesson is that we all have to be our own patient advocates – it helps good doctors make better decisions.  Please click on to learn more.  If you can donate to Rickie’s Medical Fund, it would be appreciated.  If you are interested in learning more about the disease, or in donating to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, please click on  There is a way to donate money on behalf of the Metro Detroit Chapter in Rickie’s name if you’d like to do that as well.  Either way, thanks again for your support and interest, especially in today’s economy.

2011 was a big year for one of swimmers – Jenny Bermelin, who took on the English Channel three weeks after she swam with us, and became the first Michigan woman and the fastest American woman in 2011 to successfully cross the channel.  We are very proud of her, and wish her the best – she is unable to make our swim this year because she is due to give birth in less than two months.  Actually, she is still considering swimming with us anyway.  This is why we call her “La Machine”. Please click on to read about her incredible  exploits. 

Please pass this on if you know someone who might be interested.   And if you come across someone else who has cf – please ask them to contact us.  We’d like to get them hooked into the fabulous assistance network provided by the National CF Organization, a model for charitable organizations nationwide.  They can help, through medical research, through financial advising and through working together, but individuals need to contact them.