Two Maumee residents to swim Straits of MackinacWritten by Danielle Gamble | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Maybe you’ve driven, or even walked, the 26,372 feet of the Mackinac Bridge connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan — but have you ever swam them?
That’s what 84 athletes, including two Maumee residents, plan to do this fall, and they’re collectively raising over $250,000 to do it.
The Mighty Mac Swim Challenge — being held for only the second time in eight years — will take place the same day as the 58th annual Mackinac Bridge Walk held on Labor Day, Sept. 7.
The swim will encourage swimmers from across the country to raise a minimum of $2,800 each to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Already, the swimmers have raised more than $170,000 in donations, which doesn’t include any sponsorship contributions or funds raised from raffle ticket sales.
“There’s strength in numbers, and there are enough people interested in doing the swim that I think we can really make a difference here in the state of Michigan,” said organizer Jim Dreyer.
Dreyer, an “extreme swimmer,” led 50 swimmers across the straits in 2007 for the inaugural swim to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge. That event raised about $58,000 in donations for child mentorship programs.
Originally, Dreyer planned to have 58 swimmers participate this year, but that number expanded to 84 after over 300 people applied and the original spots were filled in the first day, he said.
Maumee resident Kate Oatis, 58, was originally placed on an alternate list, but then got involved with organizing the event. Now she’s one of the official swimmers and has thrown herself into fundraising and training for a five-mile swim.
“It’s always wonderful to see people come together to do these sporting events so they can raise a lot of money for the charity of their choice, which in this case it’s Habitat for Humanity,” Oatis said. “And it really gives people an opportunity to do what they love, too, which is to swim in open water.”
Oatis is no stranger to water, being a lifelong swimmer and noncompetitive member of the United States Masters Swimming (USMS), a nonprofit that supports adult swimming nationwide. For this particular event, Oatis said she’s been working on her endurance to combat forces like the straits’ cross currents and choppy waters, so her training involves hiking, weight lifting and, of course, swimming.
“I can’t say I was prepared, say, a year ago to do something like this, but I’ve slowly been working up to it,” she said.
Steven Heaney, 51, the other Maumee participant, is also a member of USMS and swims competitively. While swimming in Canadian nationals last year, Heaney and his relay team won first place, ranking them among the top 20 in the world.
“Some people just think it’s a handful of people [swimming competitively], but it’s enormous,” Heaney said.
Besides competitive swimming, Heaney also enjoys the challenge of open water swimming. One of his recent swimming experience was a 10K swim at the “Swim to the Moon” event at Halfmoon Lake near Hell, Michigan.
For the Mighty Mac Swim Challenge, swimmers are broken into 12 teams of seven, and will be monitored by volunteers in boats for safety. There are small breaks about every 30 minutes so swimmers have a chance to grab refreshments. Heaney noted cold water as something to watch out for on Labor Day. Participants are encouraged to wear wet suits to combat the conditions, expected to include a water temperature of around 50 degreees.
In 2007, Dreyer worked for the state of Michigan to organize the swim. This year, Dreyer is coordinating the event with the help of private sponsors and volunteers.
Dreyer, who was featured on the show “Stan Lee’s Superhumans” for swimming 800 yards while pulling a 27-ton car, will personally tow the Mighty Mac Swim Challenge raffle prize — a new Lincoln MKC donated by Pfeiffer Lincoln dealership — behind him as he swims across the Straits of Mackinac.
“The car is not going to be allowed on the island,” Dreyer said with a laugh, “but it’s just the irony of being the first car ferry to the island and having it be human powered.”
Beyond the swim challenge, Heaney said he is very motivated by the charity aspect of the Mac Challenge, and has raised about $1,400 so far. He said hoped people would go to the event website and find a swimmer to donate toward.
“No matter who that ends up going to, it’s all going to the same cause,” he said.
For more information on the event or to donate to a swimmer, visit mightymacswim.com.