Water Craft: Attorney takes it one stroke at a time

Only a bright orange swim cap peaks out of the lake as attorney Mike Hutchinson punches through a series of relentless 3-foot waves, fighting for a breath of air.

He concentrates on one stroke at a time to swim against the strong Detroit current, buffeted by heavy southwest winds. Ten years ago, the attorney was a non-swimmer.

Today, Hutchinson swims a 14-mile distance in Lake St. Clair once a year for Rickie Geyer, a 9-year-old boy diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.

It was common to take in water, sometimes two breaths in a row, says Hutchinson. This makes catching your next breath rather urgent.

Rickie is the son of Hutchinsons close friend, Ric Geyer. He is a normal, active boy who loves video games, going to school, and his parents Rickie was diagnosed three years ago with Cystic Fibrosis, an inherited disease that causes mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract, causing breathing difficulties. In response to the diagnosis, Rickies dad created an annual Lake St. Clair swim event three years ago to raise money for Rickies medical trust and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Hutchinson plunged flippers-first into the heart-shaped lake on August 17 for his third year in the event. The pack of 13 swimmers started in front of the Old Club on Harsens Island at 8:45 a.m. and headed south for more than eight hours and 14.21 miles where they emerged along the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club seawall. The only female swimmer Jenny Birmelin swam the full distance, set the pace, and never touched the boat once, according to Hutchinson.

I never saw anyone eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while treading water before, says Hutchinson of Birmelin. She was as happy and cheerful at the finish line as she was when we started.

The 12 other swimmers developed a pattern of six people in the water at once, taking short breaks to refuel on a Sea Ray 40 captained by Mike Stevens. To safely corral the pack, Bill Baedke drove a neon yellow Seadoo.

He stayed back with us slower swimmers and I would have been lost several times were it not for him, says Hutchinson of Baedke.

Baedkes Seadoo assistance became especially necessary when strong winds created choppy seas. Steep waves made it difficult for swimmers to stay on course and hit with all the ferocity of a well-thrown punch, according to Hutchinson.

They reduced visibility, made it harder to breathe, and hurt sometimes, says Hutchinson of the waves. It is hard enough to swim in a straight line when the lake is calm, but with these waves you cant see but a few feet sometimes. You lose sight of the people swimming next to you and sometimes you cannot even see the boat.

Nearly every participant swam farther than they initially committed. In three one- hour shifts, Hutchinson swam 4.75 miles with partners Greg McDuffee and Tim Ross. According to Hutchinson, that was more than enough for him.

In a pool with calm water and being able to push off the end of each length, we would have swum much farther in three hours, says Hutchinson.

Training for the event required slight adjustments to Hutchinsons already rigorous workout schedule. He shifted his focus on swimming distance rather than sprints in the pool. The 33-year practicing attorney works out everyday despite his busy career at Michael J. Hutchinson, PLC, a law firm based in Richland.

A typical week is Monday running and yoga; Tuesday swimming; Wednesday running or strength training and yoga; Thursday swimming; Friday spinning; Saturday swimming, running, biking and yoga; and Sunday is just walk a few miles and stretch, says Hutchinson.

On August 17, all the training paid off handsomely for Hutchinson, albeit many energy bars, laughs, and sore arms later.

It is real physical work, but anyone could do it that puts in the training, says Hutchinson. I just concentrate on one stroke at a time and dont think about when my shift ends and pretty soon it is time to get back in the boat let someone else in the water and to eat a power bar.

Rickies bright smile greeted the swimmers as they stepped from the boat onto the Yacht Clubs gas dock. He then exchanged a number of soaking-wet hugs with participants.

Hutchinson says he is excited to swim for Rickie next year and encourages others to get involved by donating to the Rickie Geyer Medical Trust. In three years, the event has raised upwards of $25,000 in donations and, says Hutchinson, could always use more.

To donate or learn more about Rickie, visit swimmingstclair.com or write a check to Rickie Geyers Medical Trust and send it to Mike Hutchinson at 1001 Woodward Ave., Suite 900, Detroit, MI 48226.

By Kathryne Gilbride

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