Staying Safe During Marathon Swims

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By Elspeth Mizner

ERIE, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Many athletes may be gearing up for the Presque Isle triathlon this weekend and although finishing in a good time is a priority so is safety.

This comes as a woman from Cleveland, Jeanne Debonis, attempted to swim across Lake Erie on Sunday, but had to get pulled from the water due to poor conditions and cold temperatures, just a few miles from the shore.

“It was devastating. I can’t say that I wasn’t unhappy that I wasn’t going to be able to finish because the whole swim I imagined climbing out of the water at Freeport Beach. So it was really hard, but it was the right one”, said Debonis.

With just over two miles to go, Debonis and her team made the decision to end her marathon swim due to cold temperatures, a lack of progress and changing water conditions, ultimately putting her health first.

Josh Heynes, the Co-Director of the Lake Erie Open Water Swim Association said, “Everyone wants to finish, we get that but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans and I have that third-party voice of experience just to say ‘this is this isn’t gonna happen’. Especially last night with Jeanne’s swim she went to the breaking point.”

Local rescue units are on hand for these marathon swims. In case a swimmer is in distress, they are prepared to step in and help. Chris Skrekla, a lieutenant at Fuller Hose Company No. 1 said “There is a big difference between swimming in a pool and swimming in Lake Erie and unfortunately the weather conditions have changed just after midnight last night and for safety reasons they had to stop the swim just out two miles short.”

Skrekla said they haven’t had too many water rescues for boats or for people so far this season. He said their numbers have been lower which means more people are doing their part to stay safe and responsible when out on the open water.

Debonis said deciding to end her swim and not finish was a tough decision to make, but she made it with her whole team. She realized putting her health and safety first, outweighed completing the twenty-four mile swim.

“They were thinking this is not healthy and we don’t want and let’s get out now and live another day and do this some other time”, said Debonis.

The Lake Erie Open Water Swim Association works with swimmers who attempt to swim across Lake Erie to make sure swimmers have the support they need when making these treks. Debonis said she couldn’t have attempted this swim without them.


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