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Across Lake Erie

Staying focused in the middle of the storm

Lake Erie, located between Canada and the United States, is the fourth largest in North America. Though many people tried to swim across it, this didn’t happen until 1975 when Pat Budney became the first person to accomplish it. At that time, open water swimming was relatively a new thing. People swimming the English Channel and other places couldn’t get the nutrition and training down to meet that goal. They also could not acquire the right equipment or to be fueled along the way. 

But Budney’s triumph inspired other athletes. One of them being Dr. Eric Mizuba, a Hilo-born chiropractor who in 2012 got in the water with the same goal in mind. 

Since he was a child, Dr. Mizuba’s father taught him how to swim. “Before my siblings and I were allowed to go out and play, we were required to do laps at the pool. That way, when we were in open water, we were a lot safer,” he says. 

By the time he started college in Pennsylvania, he swam and lifeguarded at the Great Lakes. “Often times I would look from the American side and couldn’t see the Canadian side at all. This made me wonder if anyone could swim across that lake,” he says.

As years went by, Dr. Mizuba was approached by several individuals seeking his training. He coached them, swimming alongside them in open water from point to point and mapped out several areas that were safe for exercise. He also provided physical therapy for them at his office. 

“In fresh water you aren’t as buoyant. It is very cold and there’s a lot more resistance that makes it slower to swim than in salt water,” Dr. Mizuba says. For this reason, he also coordinated a joint effort with kayaking crews to get in the lake together.

After training the other swimmers, Dr. Mizuba’s own desire to cross Lake Erie became a personal goal. He prepared himself for a year by swimming in the pool between 5 and 10 thousand yards, three times a week. His body and mind needed to be ready and healthy. 

“These things take time to plan. They can’t be thought of a couple of months before. You also need the proper logistical support: the right people in the right places at the right time,” he shares. 

On July 29th, 2012, Dr. Mizuba left from Long Point, Ontario to Freeport Beach in Pennsylvania. Every hour or so he threaded water for 3 minutes to recover his energy and continued swimming. He could not touch the kayaks, so he was thrown water bottles and nutrition along the way. Yet, halfway through, a storm came up and all the kayaks traveling by his side capsized. 

“When I was about 14 miles into the swim and I was feeling a lot of physical pain, I told myself to keep going ‘one stroke at a time,’” he says. 

Without his supporting crew and unable to see what was in front of him, he relied on his studies of the maps and satellite photos of the lake. He used the small islands as points of reference to keep his trajectory, and his goal in mind to stay focused. After 14.5 hours, he completed the 24.3 miles swim, becoming the fourteenth person in history to cross the lake.

“It’s like in any goal we set out to accomplish; there’s always going to be adversity. But each step that we take gets us closer to our destination,” he says. 

Just like Dr. Mizuba, whatever you are doing, keep your eyes on your goal. Whether you must take it one stroke, day, or shift at the time, do not give up. Stay calm in the storm and you will get to the other side. 

Learn more about Dr. Eric’s work at DrMizuba.com

"I told myself to keep going ‘one stroke at a time.'"

"I was feeling a lot of physical pain."

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