When I first spoke with Shaun Palmer at Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abrahms Healthy Living Center (DAHLC) about doing the cross Lake MI swim he said ‘tell me about that’. When I started explaining my dream out loud to him I knew I would need coaching to keep me on track for my swim. I needed someone to keep me accountable for my workouts. And as I had never gotten swim coaching before, I knew I needed to make my crawl stroke as effective in cold waters as possible.
Shaun sat down with me at a table to talk logistics of the swim.
Shaun has taught swimming for years in Rochester: he made me aware of the information about lake swimming that I would need to know before attempting this. He told me about Masters swimming at the Rec Center and a swimmer named Vince Herring who had been a Rochester swimming phenom for decades. Vince had crossed MN’s Lake Malax and had made an English Channel crossing where he came within a mile of finishing. I screwed up my courage to ask Shaun if he would coach me for my swim crossing. With his ‘yes’ I was all in! I knew I could do this. I also know the Lake is an animal of her own, in all her moods, and I would need the training of my life to cross her.
Shaun started working on making my stroke effective and efficient. He is the one who got me to think about performing so that I would swim like a fish. I started swimming with my head very low in the water, with more of a Superman Y stance for my arms. I watched videos of the method he teaches with, . I learned how to breathe with just a slice of my face above water level. He showed me how to be a complete beginner again as long as my goal was the most efficient use of my energy for gliding the farthest. He also introduced the notion of swimming efficient but relaxed too. I tried to describe what this was doing for me one day and he smiled. ‘It’s mind/body’, he said. ‘You need to be thinking all the time’. And I was.
I called Vince Herring about meeting to talk. I knew he could direct me to marathon swim training materials: I was learning there is swimming but long distance training appeals to an exclusive crowd. There can be lots of swimmers, but few burn to make it to the other side of large bodies of water: rivers, lakes, bays, dam crossings.
Once I swam across Lake Mead just because I saw an island in the far distance I wanted to touch and explore. Vince agreed to meet me to talk, and then I didn’t get a call back from him. A few days later I got a call from a family member telling me he had passed away in his sleep right before we were scheduled to meet. I was so sad for his family, and for the Rochester community where he had been such an institution. I knew I had to swim the Lake in his memory.
Meantime, the DAHLC pool had started to be too small for workouts. I had to make 33 laps; 66 flip turns to make a mile! I showed up at the Masters swimming program at the Rochester Rec Center where coach Tom Walch started coaching me too. The Rec Center pool was warmer than the salt-and-chlorine DAHLC pool but it is an Olympic sized
100 meters so I could get the continuous swimming us distance swimmers call ‘getting the groove’. Tom taught me to swim while turning my body minimally, to drop my fingers as my hands enter, and to use my elbow pulled at my ear to keep my arm in during stroking. He also did some crazy stroke clinic things with PVC pipe that I will never forget. And I’ll keep my stroke wide doing something else!
With my stroke and time continually improving, I started making other decisions: about a safety plan made for diabetic distance swimming, about possible water temp variations, about getting the holy triumvirate of diabetic care; food-insulin-exercise, balanced correctly for a long distance swim. As a diabetic distance swimmer I knew the kind of planning I was doing would make or break my swim.