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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Swimming Across Lake Michigan And Watching History

During the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference, Greta Andersen will speak and engage the audience on a number of her swims: racing 5 times across the English Channel, getting pulled from the Molokai Channel due to sharks, completing the first two-way crossing of the Catalina Channel, and racing in Lake Michigan. She will show videos of a number of professional marathon swims from her illustrious career and describe her swims at the 1948 London Olympic Games.

One of the vintage films that she will show includes the historic Lake Michigan Swism with footage that was edited by her friend and colleague/competitor Ted Erikson who converted the vintage footage to DVD.

Erikson explained, "Based on several failures by Joe Griffith and Harry Briggs in previous years, several Lake Michigan pro swims were launched by Jim Moran (the Courtesy Man) in the early 1960s." Moran, who built the largest car dealership in the United States, was an avid supporter of swimming. He developed amateur and 3 renowned professional races in his backyard of the vast Lake Michigan:

In 1961, Erikson earned US$3,675 for the 36.75-mile race from Chicago, Illinois to Michigan City, Indiana in 36 hours 37 minutes

In 1962, Dennis Matuch won US$4,000 for the 36.75-mile race to Waukegan, Illinois in 21 hours 10 minutes.

During the same race, Andersen continued onward to win US$10,000 by swimming to the 50-mile point at Kenosha, Wisconsin in 31 hours.

In 1963, Abdul Latif Abou-Heif won US$15,000 for the 60-mile race to St. Joseph, Michigan in 34 hours 45 minutes.

Erikson, who competed in each of the swim, recalls, "Seeking publicity for his car dealership and not anticipating anyone would finish, the prize money broke the budget and no further swims were offered."

To kick things off in August 1961, 6 swimmers dove off McCormick Place in Chicago to swim to Michigan City, Indiana. Mary Margaret Revell retired at 4 miles; Dennis Matuch retired at 6 hours; Elmer Korbai retired at 27 miles and the two Simicek sisters hung on into darkness and stopped at 29 miles.

Erikson, who swam to give himself time to think and exercise, found himself automatically moved from fourth to first. He slowly struggled to complete the remaining distance to finish in 36 hours 37 minutes. His success attracted attention and a deeper field the following year.

One year later, Matuch, Erikson, Jim Wood, Elmer Korbai, Ed Kirk, Andersen, Cynthia Julian, Carol Urist and Britt Sullivan jumped in the fray. Erikson recalls, "Dennis, Greta and Cynthia led the pack but Dennis just beat Greta to the 36.75-mile finish. Greta went on the the 50-mile point with me as everyone else dropped out. Greta won $10,000 while I was a research subject for a medical study and followed several hours later for finish in 35 hours 45 minutes."

16 swimmers from 6 countries stepped it up in 1963 when Moran increased the distance to a seemingly impossible 60 miles. One year to the hour since the 1962 race, the field started at Burnham Harbor. Erikson remembers as if it were yesterday. "Abou-Heif, Greta, and an Argentine swimmer set a fast early space followed by myself and others. Throughout the afternoon swimmers dropped out leaving only Abou-Heif ahead of me by about a mile by evening. In the darkness, my handlers cut all lights on the boat. We crept to within a quarter mile of About before our tactic was recognized. He burst away to win as I kept on swimming to finish in 37 hours 42 minutes, gaining a disturbing title of the best second place finisher in these races. Piqued, those swims prompted a solo 1965 double English Channel crossing in 30 hours 3 minutes, lowering the [then-existing] record by 13 hours."

While the races were disbanded, Erikson recalls other long swims in Lake Michigan. "In 1971, my son Jon at the age 16 swam from Michigan City to Chicago in 24 hours 30 minutes to break my record [of the 1961 course]. Later, in 1988 Vicki Keith made a Lake Huron crossing in 46 hours followed in later lake crossings by Paula Stephenson and Jim Dryer (in a wetsuit)."

Watch this history at the 2012 Global Open Water Swimming Conference on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California ... and listen to the vivacious Andersen explain how she trained and the ambiance of her era. "I used to train 10 miles a day in Long Beach, California [very near where the Queen Mary currently is located]. With a paddler at my side, but no goggles!"

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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