TRAVERSE CITY — Popular local T-shirts proclaim Lake Michigan as “Unsalted” and “Shark Free,” two items that Cathy Nagler of Rochester, Minn. doesn't have to worry about she prepares to swim across Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Worry isn’t a word Nagler uses to talk about the upcoming distance swim, which is expected to take place Wednesday between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, on the west side of the mighty Mackinac Bridge. But she does have legitimate concerns, chiefly hypothermia from the cold water.
“That’s the hard one,” she said. “I went in Lake Michigan on June 12 and the water temperature was 58 degrees.”
Nagler will wear a lightweight wetsuit, of the sort tri-athletes wear, to combat that problem. Combined with dive boots, it should keep her warm enough.
“The heavier wetsuits, like water skiers wear, make me too buoyant in the water,” she said.
Nagler, who summered at her family’s cabin in Northport as a child, has been a life-long swimmer. She has several distance swims to her credit, both in the United States and England. But her goal to swim across Lake Michigan has the most meaning for her.
“It’s closest to my heart,” she said. “I grew up swimming in Lake Michigan. I know all its moods and how quickly it can change.”
Nagler said she’s always been an active person, despite being diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when she was 5.
“I run, bike, and swim a lot,” she said. “I’m in pretty good shape for a 51-year-old.”
Serious training for the swim started six months ago when Nagler brought a couple of coaches on board.
“I could have blindly stumbled through this, but having coaching helps so much," she said.
A support team comprised of friends, family and a medical doctor will be alongside every stroke of the way, transporting medical and nutritional needs.
“It’s really necessary for the doctor to be there to give me a shot of glucagon if my blood sugar drops dangerously low,” Nagler said.
Daughters, Brianna, 15, and Paige, 13, are in charge of food.
“I’ve got an energy drink for calories and liquid, but my main diet for the swim will be Gel Shots, an edible performance gel,” Nagler said. “You squirt it in your mouth and you feel really good because it’s full of calories and gives you energy.”
Nagler knows she’ll burn a lot of calories on the lake crossing. In a recent nine-mile practice swim in the pool, she burned 1,800 calories in just under five hours. Nagler expects this swim to be about eight to 10 miles, depending on conditions, and to take between four to six hours to complete.
The swimmer has both personal and munificent reasons for taking the plunge.
“The biggest reason I’m doing it is that it’s on my bucket list, and I’m doing it for all the people who think disease limits them,” Nagler said. “I don’t think it does. It changes your life, but you learn how to control how much you let it run your life. When you control it, you get to run your life. I get to run my life.”
For more information on her crossing, go to www.crosslakemi.org.