In the early-morning darkness of Sunday, July 28, Duluth resident Cathy Nagler will be on the shores of Lake Huron in her wetsuit, ready to pursue a dream.
Her latest goal as a long-distance swimmer is to complete an approximately 15-mile trek across Lake Huron. If successful, this will be her third Great Lakes crossing. Alongside her two daughters, she completed a Lake Michigan crossing in 2015 and a Lake Superior crossing in 2017.
“It has been a dream since I was a kid,” Nagler said of her long-distance swims in the Great Lakes. Although she grew up swimming in Lake Michigan near her family’s cabin, she did not pursue endurance swimming until recently.
Nagler said that challenging herself has been empowering and has connected her with an “amazing community of people.”
She will decide her route across Lake Huron based on wind and wave conditions, but expects the crossing to take 4-5 hours. She will swim flanked by a sea kayaker on one side and a safety boat on the other.
For the swim to be official, she must cross from shore to shore without any contact with a boat. Even her electrolyte energy drinks must be held out to her on a paddle.
Nagler described swimming as a “mental game” that helps her cultivate the ability to relax and stay positive in challenging situations. Conditions she must monitor include the possibilities of hypothermia, muscle cramps and blood sugar imbalances as a Type 1 diabetic.
On a previous swim, she had the additional concern of avoiding a taconite freighter.
“That increased my pace a lot,” she said with a laugh.
While swimming is a satisfying physical feat, it also has a spiritual component for Nagler.
“It connects you with nature in a way you've never experienced before,” she said, describing the lakes’ magnificent natural beauty as well as the realities of plastic trash and industrial discharge. “It has taught me so much about water quality and the importance of protecting our Great Lakes.”
She said swimming in the vastness of the lake is a reminder of how she's "connected to something that is deep and mysterious that we have to safeguard.”
Nagler is broadening the impact of her swim by using it as a fundraiser for the Silver Bay nonprofit North Shore Area Partners, which works to support independent living for seniors.