GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A marathon swimmer is taking on his latest challenge: swimming over 82 miles across Lake Michigan.
Jim Dreyer didn’t always have the courage to leave the shore behind and swim for the horizon. He almost drowned when he was three.
“The open water was my greatest fear in life,” he said.
He decided to swim across 65 miles of Lake Michigan in under 41 hours to conquer that fear. That was 25 years ago.
Since then he’s made his way across Lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario and a solo swim of Lake Superior, which got a little hairy.
“A huge storm came up. Fifteen-foot waves. Lightning striking all around me. I ended up stranded on a 100-foot cliff and a friend of mine came out looking for me on a boat. No question about it, he saved my life or my bones would still be out there,” he said.
The task of swimming across a large body of water has many asking how and why?
“Your brain starts to turn to oatmeal because you haven’t slept in two or three days,” he said. “… You always hope for the best, but you prepare for the worst.”
Stroke after stroke, Dreyer swims with a purpose.
To train his body and his brain to get to the next horizon. This time, he’s training to swim 82 1/2 miles from Milwaukee to Grand Haven. He’ll be in the water for more than 60 hours starting Tuesday.
Before embarking on this adventure, he prepares with the team to help him get from one shore to the next. The team includes three ship captains who will be in charge of keeping the boat, Knot Balanced, on the course, which is not easy when you’re traveling two miles an hour on the open water.
“At these slow speeds, to keep the boat at the pace he needs and to keep it on course, is going to be a bit of work,” Mike Larsen, owner and captain of Knot Balanced.
The crew also includes two emergency medical technicians who share the responsibility of pulling the publ on Dreyer’s swim if his life is in danger.
“Hypothermia is our biggest risk, by far. Sixty hours in the cold water, swimming or not is going to be a significant thing. It’s going to be a long time for him to do that, so we’ll continually monitor him,” Tim Webb, EMT, said.
That pressure will be very real. If Dreyer has proven anything over the course of his career as an ultra marathon athlete it’s that he will not quit.
“Even when you’re not thinking straight. Even if you can’t spell your name. Somehow, you know that you’ve got to keep going. Quitting is not an option,” Dreyer said.
Which brings us to the why. Why is he so relentless in his pursuit of these preposterous goals?
Back in the day, he was a pretty good baseball player. He even dreamed of playing professionally, but a coach told him he was too old so he gave up on that dream.
“I let somebody else discourage me by saying the scouts aren’t going to be interested in you. He squashed my dream, but I let him squash my dream. And I’ll never let anybody do that again,” Dreyer said.
That still drives him today. It drives him to swim to the next horizon and motivate others along the way.
“Don’t give up on your dreams. Reach for the stars, because if you fall short, you might still reach the moon,” he said.
Once he jumps in the water, he knows he won’t sleep or rest for more than two days. He’ll only stop to nourish his body. At some point, hypothermia will set in and he’ll hallucinate. He knows this because he’s fought through it before. Yet, he still yearns to reach those new horizons.
Another reason Dreyer won’t quit is he always swims for a charity. This swim benefits the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Association.