2007-08-30 / Front Page

50th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk Will Be Monday

Straits Swimmers To Highlight Event
By Paul Gingras

"Out on the Straits, there is so much time to think," said Kellie Nightlinger, a veteran open-water swimmer from Rexton who will join a team of 50 to swim the Straits of Mackinac on Labor Day, Monday, September 3, highlighting the 50th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. During this year's walk, tens of thousands of visitors will stroll the span, look down, and see Team Dire Straits on an historic crossing from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City.

Miss Nightlinger and event organizer Jim Dreyer are the only members of the team who have swum the Straits before. Miss Nightlinger is the only swimmer from the Upper Peninsula, and all members are originally from Michigan, Mr. Dreyer said.

To take part, each team member must raise $500 for Mentor Michigan, a state project that supports youth mentoring programs.

Last year, Mr. Dreyer set the distance record for swimming the Straits, by making multiple crossings that totaled 40 miles. Mr. Dreyer has set 14 world records while swimming across all five Great Lakes.

Miss Nightlinger, an athlete since she was a young girl, also took a solo swim across the Straits in 2006, to raise money for a project called Angels Among Us Youth Camp, and she is hoping her participation in the swim this year will draw attention to her camp again, as well as support for Mentor Michigan.

Looking up at the Mackinac Bridge from the water offers a truly unique perspective, she said.

Miss Nightlinger pondered the shipwrecks beneath her as she crossed the water during last year's swim. She thought about the people who created the bridge, and reflected upon the workers who died on the job, as well as the contribution of the bridge to state industry, and its impact on the Upper Peninsula.

While on the water, Miss Nightlinger envisioned what it was like when canoes were the primary method of travel over the Straits, both for personal transportation and for hauling cargo.

"It is amazing to me," she said.

"It is incredible, everything about the bridge," Mr. Dreyer added. "It really is an architectural marvel, not only for the state, but for the country, and when you are on a long swim, believe me, it is great to have something like that to look at.

"The thought occurs to people, 'What would it be like if this bridge was not here,'" Mr. Dreyer said. "This swim is really going to capture the imagination of a lot of people."

Out in the open air this Labor Day, Miss Nightlinger hopes walkers and swimmers will also ponder the efforts of bridge workers, the magnificence of the structure, and the history of the Straits.

She expects news of Mentor Michigan to spread by word of mouth during the bridge walk, she told The St. Ignace News, and friends wearing Mentor Michigan and Angels Among Us Youth Camp T-shirts will probably spark a few conversations among walkers.

Miss Nightlinger was the first to volunteer to participate on Team Dire Straits.

As part of her promotion of physical fitness, Governor Jennifer Granholm initiated the annual bridge run that now precedes the bridge walk.

She ran with a group from the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization last year. During the run, Miss Nightlinger, Governor Granholm, and Mr. Dreyer talked, and the governor came up with the idea of having 50 swimmers cross the Straits for the 50th Anniversary of the bridge.

The Governor directed Mr. Dreyer to set up the event, and Miss Nightlinger immediately offered to take part.

"I knew [the governor] was serious," Mr. Dreyer said, noting that she spoke about the idea to the media immediately following the run. "I have been working on it ever since."

For this year's event, Mr. Dreyer has orchestrated the logistics of the swim, and Miss Nightlinger has helped connect him with area agencies such as police departments and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary that will have boats on hand to assist with the event.

In preparation for the swim, some team members have trained together, but Miss Nightlinger, living far from any other member of Team Dire Straits, has trained alone.

"I set up a training plan for the team," Mr. Dreyer said. Most are ultra-marathon and Ironman Triathlon participants. None were experienced in swimming more than 2.4 miles. Mr. Dreyer had them practice in areas where they would experience currents and rough water.

The bridge walk and associated swim will enhance the governor's pro-exercise initiative, Miss Nightlinger said.

The event has already drawn interest to open-water swimming. Recently, a resident of Indiana perused Mr. Dreyer's Web site, noticed the event, and called Miss Nightlinger, seeking a personal trainer to prepare him for his own swim across the Straits.

By combining walking, running, and swimming, this year's event is a great platform from which to promote fitness, Mr. Dreyer said, and everyone has worked hard, both in training and fundraising.

Contributions to Mentor Michigan, which connects young people with caring adults to help them learn and grow, can be made by sponsoring a Team Dire Straits swimmer through Jim Dreyer's Web site, at www. swimjimswim.org.

To support Miss Nightlinger's swim in particular, or to support the Angels Among Us Youth Camp, call her at (906) 430-0547.

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