Great Lakes Ultra-Marathon Series
A Great Lakes Odyssey
In the beginning, there was Man and Woman,
and they begat a child. In a perfect world, the
man and woman would have time and
resources to raise the child. We don't live in a
perfect world however, and sometimes
parents have difficulty providing enough
attention and guidance to their children. This
can be especially challenging for single
The Big Brothers Big Sisters Program works to
bridge the gap between parent's resources and
the needs of their children by matching willing
adults with children needing more attention.
Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers make a
difference by providing mentorship and
friendship to children in need.
Hoping to make a difference by raising funds
and bringing awareness to the Big Brothers Big
Sisters Program through his athleticism,
triathlete Jim Dreyer set out to become the first
to swim between Wisconsin and Michigan
across Lake Michigan's mid-section, in a 1998 event entitled Swim for New Horizons. While successful in setting a new Lake Michigan distance record, swimming three times the width of the English Channel with a 65-mile crossing, Jim's career-defining motto was born after Lake Michigan's tremendous currents added an additional 15 miles to a grueling swim ... "Quitting is not an option." The Great Lakes Ultra-Marathon Series was born after the local Big Brothers Big Sisters programs in West Michigan grew by 30 - 40% following the Lake Michigan swim. Jim knew he must continue. There were other Great Lakes and there would be other quests.
One by one, Jim would begin crossing the remaining "freshwater seas" off his list as the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program continued to grow. In 1999, he would set new speed and distance records for crossing Lake Huron, but the feat was not without its perils. It took three attempts, as his support boat nearly sunk in a violent storm, he was treated as a burn patient when he lost most of the skin off his mid section, and he was separated from his support boat and lost at the end of the swim. Jim emerged from the water while a search for his body was being conducted.
Due to the fact that lakes Erie and
Ontario were narrower than his
previous quests, Jim set out in
2000 to swim the two lakes in a
single triathlon event combining
Ironman-distance running and
biking, entitled Tri for New
Horizons. On his first attempt he
fell short of his triathlon goal, but
set a solo duathlon world distance
record, when losing consciousness
before getting on his bike following
a swim across Lake Erie and a
marathon run through the beach
sand. Not one to to give up easily,
Jim came back a month later and
set a solo triathlon world distance
record when he ran 26.2 miles
through the sand along Lake Erie, biked 130 miles, and swam a 55.9 mile near double-crossing of Lake Ontario (a storm forced the swim to be aborted just 13 miles short of the finish on the return).
In 2001, Jim would embark on a quest to earn the coveted crown jewel that would complete "The Drive for Five" ... Lake Superior, the big lake called Gitche Gumee ... always rough and always cold, it is arguably the most intimidating body of fresh water on the planet. In the Quest for Gitche Gumee and the Gitche Gumee 100, Jim would achieve unprecedented success on Lake Superior while falling short in those efforts to cross her expanse.
There is a reason why Superior was saved for last in Jim's quest to swim across all five Great Lakes. In five attempts over the next four years, Gitche Gumee would prevent Jim from crossing her. In the attempted crossings however, Jim would break his own solo duathlon world distance record and twice set new Lake Superior distance records while braving 37-degree water temperatures and a storm that swept him 20 miles off course. The medical implications of his battles with Superior include
temporary paralysis of his legs due to
severe hypothermia, kidney shutdown
and a shoulder that wouldn't stay in
joint due to the break down of muscle
Just 12 days after being turned back in
his 2003 Lake Superior swim, Jim was
back in the water, this time in Michigan
City, Indiana, attempting to become the
first to swim the length of a Great Lake,
in the Lake Michigan 35o. The challenge
was undertaken as a self-sufficient
event, as he would tow 75-100 pounds of
supplies in a kayak from his ankles. He battled 15-20 foot waves on six different occasions, including the time he survived the remnants of Hurricane Isabel and had to fight his way back to the Michigan shoreline after being blown nearly half way to Wisconsin. In the end, he covered an estimated 422 miles, in 18 consecutive stages over 30 days, crossing under the Mackinac Bridge and setting the world distance record for a staged self-sufficient swim ... yet another unthinkable milestone. This journey was equivalent to towing the weight of his supplies 20 times across the English Channel in a span of 30 days.
Finally in 2005, Jim discovered an unlikely secret to achieving victory on Superior ... swimming it alone. Towing a dinghy with 250 pounds of supplies, including his navigational equipment, he set out from Michigan's upper peninsula to find his way to Canada. During the Solo Superior journey, he survived a total failure of his GPS navigational system, while 25 miles from the nearest shore, forcing him to depend on a $6.99 wrist compass and the stars to guide him. After re-rigging his attachment to the dingly, in order to mount a flashlight for reading his compass, the attachment came loose and his lifeline of supplies were swept away
from him in the strong currents. He was
forced to swim as hard as he could for
half an hour to catch his supply dinghy
... or die. Near the end, Jim fought
through a monster thunderstorm with
60 mph winds that were producing
waves in excess of 15 feet. Towing a
dinghy now filled with water against
strong storm-driven rip currents, that
were trying to pull him back out to sea,
he finally fought his way to shore. He
was rescued in the night, stranded on the
side of a cliff along a rugged and remote
Canadian shoreline, nearly 60 miles and
60 hours from embarkation.
Not having a support boat with 8-10 other lives in danger, Jim was able to persevere and ultimately achieve success. He had completed his "Drive for Five," by swimming his fifth Great Lake, and becoming the first to swim across a Great Lake self-sufficiently. This incredible adventure set the world distance record for a continuous self-sufficient swim, and beat his two previous Lake Superior distance records.
It has been said that Jim Dreyer has stretched the limits of known human capabilities ... all while facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His accomplishments as an ultra-marathon athlete are nothing short of astounding, and even more so when you learn that just two years before he set his first of 19
records with a swim across Lake Michigan, he was afraid of the water from a near-drowning as a child, and barely knew how to dog-paddle. His story is one of spirit and determination.
Read Northern Express Magazine's account of The Shark's Lake Superior crossing ...
the crown jewel of the Drive for Five.