Dan Herron of Indianapolis is part of Shore 2 Shore 2021, a group of six friends who share a common drive to make a transformational impact on the world.
On July 30-31, 2021, Herron and the rest of the Shore 2 Shore team – Dr. Keith Berend, Dr. Steve Herbst, Kurt Hershberger, Chip Smith and Bryan Chapman – attempted to swim 60 miles non-stop relay-style across Lake Michigan to raise funds and awareness for Team Hope in Motion, whose mission is to partner with Faith In Practice to offer free surgical care to patients in Guatemala.
In this Q&A conducted before the swim, Dan Herron describes how he got involved in swimming, why he and his friends were inspired to use athletics as a way to help others, and how they were getting ready for their Lake Michigan adventure.
How long have you been into swimming?
I met my wife Erica when she was 14 and I was 16. We were high school sweethearts. She was class valedictorian, and I was far from it. She was a super successful athlete, and I was not. And we fell in love. We both went to college and grew together.
She’s the one who really taught me how to work hard, how to study and how to think, as well as the importance of having self-control and discipline. And, she’s actually the one who taught me how to swim after we were married. That was in 2002. I was teaching high school in St. Louis and she was in grad school, but we were living in Colorado for the summer because of a mentoring program I was part of. She taught me how to swim at the YMCA of the Rockies.
After that summer, we decided to do a mini triathlon together. Since then, I’ve been involved in longer and longer triathlons. So, I’ve continued to work in my development as a swimmer.
What prompted you to use swimming and cycling as a way to help others?
Well, first of all, I’m part of this friend group. We’ve been together now, I don’t know, four years, five years, maybe six years. There’s this organization called Pelotonia, which raises funds for the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State University through an annual 200-mile charity ride around Columbus. That’s how we all met and became friends, by participating in that ride year after year.
I began participating in the event when Erica was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wanted to do something to support her, to raise her up as a champion in her fight against cancer, and to help in the fight against the disease in general.
So, this group of men, we’ve just been meeting every year for several years raising money for Pelotonia. We’ve grown as friends. We’ve also grown in our vision of making a difference with our lives.
How did you get the idea for swimming across Lake Michigan?
In the fall of 2020, everyone was trying to figure out what to do during Covid. One night Erica texted me a video of this group of guys who did a swim across Lake Michigan earlier in the year. She jokingly said, “Hey, I think you and your friends could do this next.”
I watched the video and I’m like, “I think we could do this” because we’re a group of guys who love big epic things. We love big challenges. We’ve done Race Across America together several times. That’s a 3000-mile bicycle race from San Diego to Annapolis, Maryland.
So, I sent the video to Keith, Chip, Bryan, Steve, Kurt, and the other guys in our little 15-guy text group. And within 15 minutes, Keith came back with. “Yeah, totally. We’re doing it. We’re in.” And it just began with this little seed of, “Look at this awesome thing.” This is something that we could do as athletes, as men who are bound together in friendship and want to make a difference with their lives. And over time, as we’ve rolled in the Hope in Motion aspect, we all have gotten totally inspired. As of now we’ve been training for 10 months to do this swim across Lake Michigan.
How has the training been going?
Every time I wade into the water to swim and see the waves coming in, I ask myself, “Can we really cross Lake Michigan?” I mean, the water is freezing. I get my face in the water and my breathing accelerates because of the cold, but I just chill out and keep swimming. And I think to myself two things. One is, “Don’t panic. There’s nothing in here that can eat you.” Then the second one is, “You know, I’ve got a great group of friends, great support. We’ve been training. We can do this.” And the vision is to help other people in raising this money. And so that’s really what our lives need to be about.
I’ve swam in Lake Michigan before. I’ve swam in big, big bodies of water before. But Lake Michigan right now is really cold and it’s pretty choppy. When you’re putting all your gear on, you start getting excited, your adrenaline starts kicking up a little bit and you start getting hot because wet suits are pretty hot. And the entire process of getting your gear on in a circle, kind of bantering with one another, peeling your wet suit over your arms, it feels like you’re preparing for something significant.
Is there something symbolic in using swimming as a way to raise money for folks in Guatemala?
I think in many ways, our culture has become acclimated to creating lives without challenge and living a life of comfort. I mean, comfort is fine, but when you live for it, when your life is centered on comfort, you neglect the importance of challenging yourself in order to sacrifice for other people. I know it’s just a swim and there are more people in this world who are making greater sacrifices for others, yet this is some of the mentality I have in disciplining myself to swim this distance and this duration—making a sacrifice for others.
So, all of those thoughts about sacrifice are running through my head as I’m walking out there into the endless waters of the big Lake. And, then I see the breakers, I hear the winds; and, wading into the water, I feel panic, heightened adrenaline, and the water is frigid. But, then as I get going, as I control my breathing, as I talk the panic down, as I get into a rhythm, it becomes natural and I’m able to just keep going. This mindset and practice is the key to endurance sports—the value of fortitude, of perseverance. It’s not just about sports; this is a principle for life.
We’re swimming in Lake Michigan. We’re enjoying the great comfort of a beautiful cottage, great food and wine, and we’re raising money for others. Yet, even with all of this, we still experience our own personal challenges and struggles—not just the big Lake swim, but real-life stuff. And, here in the place of our mutual experiences of comfort, challenges, and struggles we can find common ground with the people we’re seeking to serve. The people in Guatemala who Team Hope In Motion exists to serve—their lives are also filled with struggles, challenges, and times of comfort. Perhaps not comfort to the level that we can so easily take for granted. So, by our engaging in this particular swim challenge for the sake of serving these people, we aren’t trying to be heroes to them. Instead, the idea is to come alongside them as fellow human beings.
This is an opportunity to enter into their struggles with debilitating bone disorders that hinder their ability to walk. The hope is not only that their bones are healed and their joints replaced, but that their lives will be transformed, not just through surgery but as a result of our lives coming together.
And that’s certainly happening in my life as I’m engaging with these guys I’m training with. I’m growing as a man, as a friend, as a husband, as an athlete, as a servant. And the hope and prayer is that this is happening in the lives of these people in Guatemala as well. I don’t know what that’s going to look like for these particular individuals, but as a result of my personal faith, I think one day I’ll have a better idea of what the impact of this will be eternally in the lives of some of these people.
What’s your biggest fear about swimming across Lake Michigan?
There are no alligators or sharks in the lake, so I’m not afraid of predators. Obviously the lake is pretty cold, but we’ve got gear to handle that and we’re acclimating ourselves to the chill. Plus, we will have several physicians on board.
I’m not so much afraid of the distance either. It’s 60 miles but we’re breaking it up between six guys over the course of 30 or so hours. We’re planning on swimming 30-minute shifts, which isn’t that hard. And we’ll have two boats, one in front and one behind, so everyone is watching you the entire time.
But I am afraid that we will have made this huge effort to train and to prepare and to gather all of this together. And maybe somehow the conditions of the lake will be too violent and we will have to end early, or the temperatures will be too cold. So that’s my greatest concern. But even with that, we have a backup plan to swim in Lake Hamlin.
And I think maybe my second fear or my second concern is that I’ll slow everyone down. I’m the slowest swimmer of the group by far. They’ve been really patient with me, but as a competitive guy I don’t want to be the slowest.
Is there a broader purpose for the swim beyond providing medical help for Guatemalans?
There’s something about accomplishing something big. It’s great when you’re finished and you emerge with the group you did it with. During training I’m swimming four days a week, running, cycling, lifting, yoga, and it’s a huge pain. It’s a huge effort. There’s suffering involved. It’s a struggle. We’re dealing with cold water. But, finishing it puts everything into perspective. We’re going to emerge from the water together. We’ll celebrate with our families. We’ll party, we’ll laugh, and then we’ll have this incredible memory together.
That’s really life transforming. And, it’s kind of symbolic for what a lot of us have experienced these last couple of COVID years of limitation, of sacrifice, of struggle, fearfulness, of anxiety, and of having to persevere through that. What we’re doing is a great opportunity for other people who’ve been anxious or struggling personally these last couple of years. By praying for us and giving to Team Hope in Motion people can have their personal agency restored to them, after it’s felt so suppressed for so long. Ordinary people just like us might even consider doing something similar, like starting their own local event that raises money for the efforts of Team Hope In Motion.
I think that is something that I’m excited about, seeing people having personal agency to coordinate and, as a community, have a vision for this sort of thing themselves. Like, I’m just a regular dude. And so are these guys. Right? They swim a lot faster than me. So, I’m even more regular than they are. And that’s what the world is filled with, regular people who can do great things.
The whole purpose of this isn’t just to swim across Lake Michigan. It’s to begin to strengthen and expand a whole new organization, Team Hope in Motion. We certainly want to raise money and to inspire people to see what we’re doing in sending medical teams to Guatemala to operate on people for free so they can walk again. But we also want people to be inspired by what we’re doing as well.
We want to help contribute to a culture of hope. And that’s what the name of this is, Team Hope in Motion. Hope requires action. It requires motion. Otherwise, it’s just empty dreaming. We want to inspire people to take action, to make that hope work for others.Dan Herron and his team of friends were the third group to attempt to swim across Lake Michigan. More people have walked on the surface of the moon than have swam the big Lake. Unfortunately, during their window of time, there were 15-20 knot winds, and waves as high as 5-7 feet in the center of the Lake. So, the team determined that the conditions were too dangerous to swim, let alone take a boat out. The team fell back on their next best plan—they swam the first and the final miles of their 60-mile swim in Lake Michigan, while swimming the remainder, relay style, non-stop in Lake Hamlin.