NEGAUNEE - If you've ever stood on the shore of Teal Lake, looked out over its waters to the far side and thought to yourself, "I could swim that," you'll soon have the chance to challenge yourself - for charity.
The 11th Annual Swim Teal Lake: Benefit for Diabetes, to take place the morning of Saturday, July 26, is the perfect opportunity to swim the 2.25-mile span from Negaunee to Ishpeming, with the advantage of knowing that in doing so, you're raising money for a good cause.
Participants leave in two heats - one untimed, for beginners, and another a half-hour later for the more experienced and competitive swimmers.
Swimmers approach the Ishpeming shore of Teal Lake accompanied for safety by kayaking volunteers, nearing the end of the 2.25-mile Negaunee-to-Ishpeming Swim Teal Lake: Benefit for Diabetes in July 2013. Since its inception in 2003, the event has raised more than $80,000 for diabetes outreach and support efforts throughout the Upper Peninsula. (Journal file photo by Zach Jay)
Peter Vanderkaay wades to shore at the end of his swim across Teal Lake for the 2013 Teal Lake Swim last July. (Journal file photo by Zach Jay)
Kristen Cambensy, office manager at the U.P. Diabetes Outreach Network, said the event usually draws about 100 swimmers each year, accompanied for safety along the entire course by another 60 to 70 people in kayaks.
"We just want people to get out and participate and have fun at the event," Cambensy said. "Teal Lake is a beautiful lake, and it's great to get out and enjoy it. The U.P. has many beautiful places to enjoy and Teal Lake just happens to be one of them. If you come to our event, the start of the swim is probably one of the most incredible sights you'll see. Because you have the group of swimmers and then these bright-colored kayaks going across Teal Lake, and it's pretty impressive."
This year's special guest speaker is Dr. Natalie Strand - a Season 17 winner of the reality TV show "The Amazing Race" - whom herself has Type-1 diabetes.
"She's going to speak to all the racers and participants and other people there, so it's going to be kind of interesting for them to see someone who, she's not only a doctor, but she competed in this crazy race - all while being a Type-1 diabetic," Cambensy said.
With several other swimmers with diabetes taking part as well, Cambensy said the event is important not just as a fundraiser, but to show others, diabetic and non-diabetic alike, how important exercise and physical activity are to their health.
"Being inactive is one of the major (factors in developing) Type-2 diabetes," she said. "Our lifestyle tends to be more sedentary, where we're just sitting around playing video games; we're not getting out and running around as much as we used to. And so it's very important for kids to be active and healthy-eating and things like that - and adults, also. Sometimes it's the simple things, like just getting out and walking for 30 minutes. You don't have to swim two-and-a-quarter miles across the lake," she laughed.
Registration for the event has a suggested donation of $75, though for those who want to participate but don't think they can make the donation, Cambensy said there are scholarships available on a first-come, first-serve basis - thanks to a $500 donation from the Ishpeming Rotary Club.
For the first time this year, UPDON will also receive a generous match grant from the former Bell Hospital Foundation.
"This year we have a match grant from the Western Marquette County Health Foundation, so they're going to match all of our swimmer donations up to $10,000," she said. "So we're really excited for this year's swim."
Having raised more than $80,000 for the UPDON in its first 10 years, the money goes to a variety of outreach, care and support efforts aimed at aiding Yoopers the peninsula over with Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes, as well as paying for training, certification and conferences for area health care professionals helping diabetics in the U.P.
One of UPDON's most recent efforts is a telephonic diabetes support group, where diabetics meet and then speak regularly with a health care professional over the phone about their illness.
"It's face to face for the first time and then they talk to them on the phone every month for a year," Cambensy explained. "And it's just to kind of keep everybody on track and have someone to talk to. Because the U.P.'s so rural, it's hard to get to an educator for some people, and so then this allows them to have some kind of contact."
For Cambensy, who has herself participated in the swim three times, the lake is a challenge, but a very rewarding one.
"It's hard, but the sense of accomplishment you have when you get to the other side, you're just like, 'I made it - this is amazing!'" she said. "Anybody can do it. You just have to get to the other side. Don't worry about your time, how long it's taking you. You just keep going."
For more information about the swim or to pre-register for the event, visit www.teallakeswim.com
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.