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Liz's Leelanau Swim

Lake Michigan Swim 2001

Sent July 9, 2001 The Leelanau 100 Mile Swim


Maybe some of you saw the articles in the Ann Arbor News and Detroit Free Press about Liz Elling's swim around the Leelanau Peninsula. She is amazing. Within the next few days, this 54 year old woman will be swimming 100 miles around the pinkie finger of Michigan. She is raising $10,000 for the Leelanau Land Conservancy.

On the Fourth of July, I joined Liz for one day of her swim. With a rented wet suit in the trunk of the car, my mother (a good friend of Liz's) and I drove to meet her and her family up north. We found her in Glen Arbor in good spirits and great shape. She is truly amazing.

We looked at maps showing where she had already swum, four miles the first day, ten the second and ten the third. Slowly she is making her way around the coast. Two local TV stations greeted her at the beach in Empire on the first day of her swim. Though the weather was bad, Liz wasn't phased. In the TV footage she was aqua woman against the fierce waves. It looked like she was swimming 130 miles an hour!

The Lake Michigan waters are cold so she is wearing two layers, a fleece lined wet suit and another. I was worried mine wouldn't be enough.

The morning of the fourth, we met in Leland. I have to admit I was terrified to get into the water. The waves were huge and thunderous. There were no clouds but it wasn't exactly warm outside. We found Liz preparing for her swim, looking like a mermaid on some nearby rocks. Three canoes and one kayak also greeted her. Her husband and two daughters were there.

I had my snorkel gear, flippers, mask and snorkel tube at the ready. I was also glad that Alan Priest (in training for a 500 mile triathlon along the border between northern Minnesota and Canada!) had come to support Liz while getting in some canoe training. If it were too cold, I'd simply hop into Alan's canoe. (My hop was more like a belly flop. Yes, we capsized once.)

Liz backed into the water with her goggles and swimming cap tight around her head. It was difficult to maneuver while wearing flippers on the beach. The sand and rocks tended to be scooped up easily which prevented me from walking too gracefully. A penguin or even a duck must have the same problem. I convinced myself that this was an adventure and I backed into the water following Liz.

With the wet suit on, it wasn't too bad.

I cheated a little pushing off the bottom of the lake, staying close to shore where it was shallow, and a few times I took off the flippers and walked along the beach with Kirsten, Liz's daughter. For a mile or two, I was in Alan's canoe. Liz kept swimming. One stroke after another. She was determined. It was amazing to watch.

While swimming I tried every stroke I knew. Many didn't work with the flippers like the breast stroke. Because of the snorkel gear, my head was in the water most of the time. I looked up on occasion to see the scenery and check if I were going in the right direction. A few times I was completely turned around, swimming with the land on the left instead of on the right. Several times I was headed straight out to sea and twice I was full speed toward shore. Where the water was clear, I could watch the rocks and plot a straight course in the right direction, north.

At the end of the day I learned I had covered almost 6 miles in the water, more than I think I have swum in my whole lifetime put together. Liz managed nine miles. We were at it for about eight hours in total, stopping here and there along the shore for a quick snack and some drinking water. Liz is my heroine. Where did she get the idea? And where did the gusto to actually do it come from!?

The next day my flipper muscles were sore. My jaw hurt too. I must have been biting the snorkel tube a little too hard. Liz on the other hand was right back at it by 9AM the next morning and has been swimming several miles every day since the first of July.


Heather O’Neal

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