Five members of the Northern Michigan University (NMU) Swim and Dive team swam the Straits of Mackinac Sunday, July 6, 2014. The swimmers almost immediately faced obstacles, with high winds, cold water temperatures, and waves developing up to 3-4 feet as they entered the shipping channel.
Making the five mile crossing for the second year in a row were Seniors Tara Dowling of Marquette, MI and Megan Crowder of Mikado, MI, along with first time crossers Sam Clemence of Clarkston, MI, Dakota Sechena of Great Falls, Montana and Pam Johnson of Troy, MI.
The group was originally to be accompanied by Coach Heidi Voigt by kayak, but rough water conditions made it not possible for her to safely navigate the crossing. The support boat, which remained near the swimmers, maintained contact with Voigt and the Coast Guard for the duration of the swim. The Coast Guard made periodic radio broadcasts to marine traffic in the vicinity alerting them of the swimmers as they crossed the Straits.
The swimmers began the five-mile swim from the Upper Peninsula's Straits State Park beach at St. Ignace at 8:22 am on Sunday, swimming south parallel to the Mackinac Bridge, until reaching their destination at the Old Mission Lighthouse Beach at 11:13 am.
Swimmers encountered rough waters with surface temperatures in the high fifties during the swim, making the crossing more difficult than last year. One plus for today was the absence of any Great Lakes freighter traffic in the Straits during the event. Several Mackinac Island ferry boats did pass near-by giving passengers a chance to see the swimmers in the water up close and shout their support.
Continuous wind and waves pushed the swimmers east as they tried to parallel the bridge, causing them to swim additional distances, and leaving them with a sense of not making progress at certain points. Several swimmers commented that it felt as if they were looking at the same bridge tower for hours.
Cheering vacationers, family and friends greeted the swimmers as they approached the beach, applauding the uncommon effort.
"I'm really proud of these women for their tenacity. A lot of people would have quit halfway through given the conditions out there today" said Coach Heidi Voigt. "It was difficult to watch from the sidelines, knowing what challenges they were facing, but I never doubted they'd come though as a team."
As the group recovered on the beach at the conclusion of the swim, asked if they would try the crossing again they all agreed they would, however, "Only on a nice calm sunny day next time!"