20 attempting to swim across Lake Michigan, raise money for cancer

July 18, 2013|By Riley Blevins @Riley_Blevins | RedEye

There’s nothing creepier than plunging into deep, murky waters and bumping into something mysterious.

Yes, the 20 swimmers attempting to swim across Lake Michigan on Friday will have to muster up some courage.

But David McClellan knows that won’t be a problem.

Swim Across America, a national nonprofit focused on raising money for cancer research, is launching its first Swim Across Lake Michigan fundraising event.

“These people want to make a difference,” said McClellan, SAA’s Chicago event co-chair. “They’re motivated to make a difference.”

The trek across Lake Michigan is an extension of SAA’s larger Chicago event, which in its 20th year offers fundraisers the chance to participate in the half-mile, 1-mile, 1.5-mile or 3-mile course Saturday. The fundraising goal between the two Chicago events is $400,000. Funds will go to support early-stage cancer research at Rush University Medical Center.

The swim across Lake Michigan is used as an incentive for top fundraisers. Those who raised more than $2,500 will depart from Adler Planetarium at midnight Friday and swim until they reach the shores in Michiana, Mich.

“The fundraising stays within our community,” said McClellan, a former swimmer at the University of Texas. “It stays here in Chicago. It’s not going to some ambiguous national body where you’re not sure how the funds are going to be used. You may be making a difference at a cancer treatment center where you may have a friend or family member treated someday. That’s a big part of what we are all about--making an impact at the local level.”

The route across the lake is approximately 45 miles, depending on currents. The swim will take about 20 hours.

The 20 participants will be split into three teams. Each swimmer will swim a 30 minute leg. Three boats will follow the teams. Swimmers in the water will wear glow sticks on their wet suits as most swimming occurs at night.

Most braving the depths of Chicago’s Great Lake are former cancer survivors or swimming in honor of someone who fought cancer. The opportunity to raise money for cancer research trumps any fear of nudging a floating plastic bag.

“The event certainly isn’t for everyone,” McClellan said. “But for people who have good swimming skills, the event is sort of a bucket list event. You can be telling people about it 20 year from now. It’s the kind of thing that stays with you for life.”

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