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Bryan Huffman’s swim across Lake Michigan ends in disappointment, support boat blamed

In the beginning, his epic effort seemed promising.

Bryan Huffman hoped to freestyle across Lake Michigan, starting his quest early Saturday morning in Wisconsin. Just one hour in, a glowing report from his team came back, saying that the doctor “looks great, only about 29 more hours!!”

About three hours later, an email update said: “Wowzah!!” It noted Huffman had been swimming for as long as it takes on average “to finish a marathon” and that he got boosts from a bottle filled with a water-nutrients mix that his crew would toss him.

Bryan Huffman, of Holland, starts his 30-hour freestyle swim across Lake Michigan on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, from Wisconsin.

At 12 hours, another report: “The guy is swimming like a champ!”

But the online, real-time tracking also showed he appeared to be getting turned around. For a stretch, he headed north, when he should have been going east. And then, the dot identifying his location started moving faster — and straighter.

And by about 1 a.m. Sunday, his tracking showed had reached Ludington ahead of schedule.

Did he make it?

“Due to a mechanical failure on our support boat, Bryan was not able to complete the swim successfully,” a Facebook message posted soon afterward said. “We are all safe, but very disappointed. All of us are grateful for your support.”

The Free Press also left a message with Huffman.

Huffman is the second swimmer from Michigan this month to attempt to make it across the Great Lake. The first, Jim Dreyer — who successfully crossed 25 years ago — was thwarted after only about 10 miles in by bad weather. Both men had spent months preparing.

Dreyer commented on the Huffman post, urging him to try again: “So sorry to hear this. I feel your pain. A battle may be lost but the war is never over until YOU say so. Glad everyone is safe and Bryan will swim another day! Yes, a valiant effort for all in this first chapter!”

More: 7 athletes who swam across Lake Michigan: From Ted Erikson to Elizabeth Fry

Huffman, who is nearly 50, made it further than Dreyer, and was swimming without a wetsuit.

Still, whatever the conditions, swimming across Lake Michigan is no easy feat. Until 1961, when Ted Erikson, then-33, did it, some thought the Great Lake was “invincible.” To cross it, it was said back then, would take “a rare degree of cooperation from nature.”

Before he started, Huffman acknowledged as much.

The ophthalmologist said he was attempting to cross the Great Lake, in part, to raise money to give kids swim lessons at the Holland Aquatic Center, where he is a member. But he also wanted to try it, he said, for the same reason people attempt most challenges, to see if he could.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Bryan Huffman’s effort to swim across Lake Michigan halted