Tri Challenge: My first mile in Lake Michigan
July 19th, 2011
04:39 PM ET

Tri Challenge: My first mile in Lake Michigan

Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon.

I've been trying to swim in Lake Michigan for several weeks now with my swim group but it's been canceled due to bad weather or bad water quality.

Luckily, I met a wonderful person, Nadine Borkowicz, in my swim class, who was training for her first Ironman and we talked about my fear of open water. It seemed that she was worried about the open water as well, and had asked one of her friends, Tom Degan – an Ironman, to swim with her the next day in Lake Michigan. She was so kind to invite me along and I jumped at the chance!

We met the next morning and drove to Lake Michigan. I've lived in Chicagoland area for over 11 years and never visited Ohio street beach until now. I guess swimming in open water didn't make it to my top 100 things to do in Chicago.

I didn't know what to expect but Tom was so gracious and got us comfortable in the water. We swam a bit and I started getting nervous. Nadine said that she would swim with me all the way. So, I had Nadine on my left and Tom on my right and we started swimming to the 1/4 mile marker. I had to stop a few times just because I was like "OMG, OMG." I was so glad to reach the 1/4 mile mark and would have loved to turn around, but they wouldn't let me swim back alone. So, it was either they all swim back with me, or I suck it up and keep going. I didn't want to spoil Nadine's training experience, so I said, OK let's do it.

Tom made sure I wasn't tired and we started swimming towards the 1/2 mile marker. The water started getting really choppy and the swells were so strong that I felt like I wasn't moving at all. Tom instructed me to rotate more and get my hands over instead of slapping them into the waves.

Finally we reached the 1/2 mile marker and I held on the buoy for dear life because the swells had gotten really strong. After a short break, we started to swim back. This time, I swam the entire 1/2 mile back without a break. Woohoo! I think I was glad to get back and didn't want to stop. The 1/2 mile swim back felt like forever. I could see the shore but I couldn't get to it soon enough. It takes about 10 minutes to walk 1/2 mile on land but it took me almost 30 minutes to cover 1/2 mile in water.

It was so helpful to have Nadine swim alongside me because I could see a human and that comforted me mentally. Tom was there every step of the way giving us a heads up when the water conditions changed and when the bottom started dropping. I still have to learn to do it alone and definitely need to spend more time in open water. Overall it was a great first experience.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Bracey

    Kas, if you can do a half mile in 30 minutes in Lake Michigan, you're going to smoke the Hudson, where you can see both sides and you have the benefit of the current. Best of luck in NYC!

    July 19, 2011 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. elle

    Swimming in open water is the best, but not for the faint of heart. I swim 5+ miles every week in Hawaii and have been stung by box jelly-fish & man-o-war, been greeted by monk seals, whales and even a very large tiger shark once. I think I walked on water after seeing that shark – all the way back to shore! I have also seen so many wonderful things in the ocean and will continue swimming in open water until I'm too old to do it!

    July 19, 2011 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Steve

    I am a swimmer by trade (through college), but have always had an irrational fear of open water. I am doing the Chicago Triathlon this summer and not looking forward to swimming in Lake Michigan and it's sea-monsters! Glad to hear you are working on your fears. Hopefully the excitement of the race can help us both get through it ok.

    July 20, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AlwaysTri

      Steve- I'm doing Chicago, as well. You'll LOVE it...aside from the heat, it's an amazing race. See you there!

      July 20, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    I'm doing my 6th Iron distance race this august. Here is all you need to know about the swim: If you stop getting kicked, you are off course, and it's the least important event, time wise. Endure, conserve energy, don't panic. You will be fine.

    July 20, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Solai

    Hi Sundari!

    I am very sure you are going to ace the swimming portion of the race. Knowing you, I am sure you have analyzed every bit of your issues with open water swimming by now and have come up with a solid plan of how to overcome that. I will be there at the finishing line (and starting line – 5am????) to cheer you all the way.

    Can't wait to see you finish and take pictures with you 🙂


    July 31, 2011 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.