From Fear to Triumph: Cancer Stories from the Detroit River - My Family Travels

This is not the story of a travel far from home, but of the journey to a new and improved spiritual state. Every year for the last thirteen years on the second Wednesday in July, the Lance Armstrong Foundation in association with Different Strokes Swim Shop puts on an open water swim in order to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. I first heard about the event four years ago from a teammate on my summer swim team. Up until this year, I could not over come my fear of swimming in untreated water to participate in this event with my friends and teammates. I always “woke up with a fever” the morning of the event and stayed home.

As the sun broke this July morning, I had already been up for several hours contemplating ways to avoid diving into that frigid dirty water. An excuse so good there could be no doubt on anyone’s mind that I was once again to afraid to get in and swim. Swimming in lakes, oceans, rivers and virtually any type of water that has not been treated, or where I cannot see the bottom has always frightened me. The thought of swimming a mile in the Detroit River was simply not feasible.. “I’m not going to wimp out again this year. I will swim this with my team!” My motivational thoughts, while quite cheesy, were comforting. As the clock struck six and my alarm sounded I rolled out of bed and decided there could be no harm in just going down to check out the event with the team.

At seven sharp the van carrying all of my teammates laid on its horn in my driveway, too excited to care if it woke any of my neighbors. This was it. I was going to go down to that island with them and die in E. Coli infested water. I grabbed my bag and climbed in. Our drive took us from my home down Lakeshore Rd. and into the not-so-archaic ruins of Detroit. The drive took us within view of the GM Building and the Renaissance Center, before making a sharp left onto the Belle Isle Bridge. We passed the decaying mass that once was the Detroit Boat Club, whose property’s sole purpose was to house the rowboats of local crew teams, and headed for the parking lot in the center of the island.

Car after car were pulling into that tiny lot. There wasn’t a single space left for our mighty swim van, so up the side of the grassy hill is where we parked. Waves of people flooded the Belle Isle Beach. Upwards of 500 swimmers had shown up for this magical event and at least triple that number in spectators. Out on the horizon the river was dotted with boats and kayaks full of lifeguards operating the event.

As we made our way over to an open picnic table, I noticed a man with one leg and no hair. He was dressed in a wetsuit and goggles, supporting himself with a cane. I approached the man and asked the all so obvious question, “You aren’t swimming this? Are you?” He replied, “Why of course I am, I got my suit and goggles. Nothing has stopped me from swimming before, and cancer certainly will not stop me now.” This man had three months left on his life. Cancer had taken his leg.

I placed seventh in the Men’s Open Event with a time of 25:30. Needless to say this, man’s courage and determination inspired my own.

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1 Reply to “From Fear to Triumph: Cancer Stories from the Detroit River”

  • borregsnbacon

    If you copy and paste the URL at the bottom of the post into your browser, it will take you to a video clip of the event, and if you skip to the last 12 seconds of the video you will see myself and one of my good friends sprinting in to the finish. We ended up tieing for 9th place.

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