UPDATE: After a weather-related delay earlier this summer, Swim Across Lake Michigan will take place this weekend.
Every year for more than two decades, swimmers have taken to Lake Michigan area beaches in the name of fighting cancer at Swim Across America – Chicago. This weekend, almost two dozen swimmers will take that challenge a bit farther, swimming across the entirety of Lake Michigan.
Swim Across Lake Michigan (SALM) takes off from Burnham Harbor Friday at 7 p.m., bound for Michiana, Michigan. The 43-mile journey, now in its third year, brings together swimmers of all ages for a unique fundraising event.
“It’s a flashier event, so it raises more for the charity and the cause,” Sean Russell, the event director for SALM, says.
SALM, like its local, shorter counterpart, supports the Rush University Medical Center and its work with cancer research and treatment. This year alone, Swim Across America – Chicago raised over $350,000 for Rush, in addition to more than $825,000 since 2012.
“Unfortunately, myself along with everyone else gets touched by cancer through friends, family and loved ones,” Russell says. “It’s a cause that’s become more and more important to me over the years.”
Participants in SALM will swim relay-style across the lake, with two to three swimmers in the water together for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. The swimmers come from a variety of backgrounds, Russell says, but all have open water experience and many excelled at the sport in the past, counting stints in college swimming and water polo, along with time as a professional water polo player in Europe for one swimmer, among their past accomplishments.
One swimmer, however, has yet to earn a high school varsity letter.
14-year-old Jillian Bacon is far and away the youngest on the SALM roster. The upcoming high school freshman picked up swimming nine years ago and currently swims with the Leaning Tower Sharks, where she gravitates towards sprints rather than long distance events. The senior level swimmer came to open water swimming through her uncle a couple of years ago, and this past spring, he introduced her to swimming across the lake.
“I was freaked out by the idea of swimming across Lake Michigan but warmed up to it, and here I am,” Bacon says.
Throughout the summer, Bacon has logged around five and a half total hours of practice about five days per week with the Leaning Tower Sharks, which has helped her with distance training. Bacon has completed a handful of open water swims in the past, including events in the Caribbean along with events in Lake Michigan.
Bacon says that her participation in the swim is in honor of her grandmother, great aunt and great uncle, all of which passed away due to cancer.
“I’m just going to take it in and enjoy the moment,” Bacon says of SALM. “You don’t really get to say, ‘I swam across Lake Michigan,’ [often]. I’m going to be happy to be there and follow instructions of the captain.”
Depending on water and weather conditions, SALM should take slightly less than 24 hours to complete. Swimmers will celebrate their accomplishment with a barbecue in Michigan with their family and friends. To learn more about the swim or to donate, visit www.swimacrossamerica.org.