Hometown: Harrow, ON
Swim Distance: 14km
Favourite Lake Memory: An overnight trip I made with some family friends as a 10 yr old, we travelled from Monroe Michigan to “Put-in-Bay”, a small town on South Bass Island Ohio. While new to boating at that age I was fascinated by being on the open water with no land in sight. I still remember stopping in the middle and jumping off the boat for a swim in the clear blue waters of Lake Erie and feeling like I was in the middle of the ocean.
Dennis Higgs, an accomplished open water swimmer has competed in multiple long distance open water swims in Michigan. Dr. Dennis Higgs runs a lab at the University of Windsor studying fish in the Great Lakes systems. Dennis will be embarking on a 10km swim between Colchester Beach and Cedar Beach as part of this year’s 3 segment event.
Dennis is excited to participate in the Canadian Freshwater Alliance’s event this year because he loves being able to express his passion for freshwater ecology and science communication while pursuing his love for open water swimming. Win-Win! Dennis loves swimming in Lake Erie and hopes this event will allow others to also enjoy Lake Erie as a resource, place to enjoy and a place to protect.
The Canadian Freshwater Alliance chatted with Dennis to discuss his upcoming swim, his training regimen and his connection to the lake.
CFA: What are your reasons for competing in the Lake Erie Challenge this year?
What’s driving you to compete?
DH: What really attracted me to this event was partly the swim but also the public outreach aspect. Freshwater ecology and science communication are very important to me, so if I can couple the awareness of the ecosystem we have around us with my crave for swimming it’s kind of the best case scenario. I really like what the Freshwater Alliance is trying to do with bringing awareness to the ecosystem that we have because Lake Erie is such a cool place but people don’t think of it that much and don’t realise what a treasure they have. That aspect of it is really what appeals to me.
CFA: Can you tell us about your first memories of Lake Erie?
DH: My first memories of Lake Erie were not positive ones. I grew up in Michigan in the Detroit area in the 70s and 80s. Lake Erie was known for pollution, some of the rivers draining into it were catching on fire and it was not a place that you would think to go fishing or anything.
My family wasn’t really an outdoors family - I was just the weird one - but as a kid it was not a positive association with Lake Erie; it was even mentioned as a cautionary tale in Dr. Seuss’ book “The Lorax”. I then went away to Texas for my PhD and then Arizona for my first job and never planned to come back to this area.. I ended up basically half an hour from home, in a different country so never say never haha! I was really surprised by the improvements Lake Erie had made and how much cleaner it is than it was. I’ve been here for 17 years and it seems to be getting healthier every year other than some down blips of algal blooms.
CFA: What does your training regimen for this kind of crossing look like? Are there any other sports or workout routines that you incorporate into training to prepare you for a swim like this?
DH: My normal training regimen - before they closed the pools - was usually about 3-4 days a week depending how busy I was at work. We have an awesome olympic sized pool in downtown Windsor so I’d try to do 12-15k a week across those 3-4 sessions. now I go to the beach 3 days a week. 1 day interval training, 1 ½ hour session swimming through the waves, and 1 ½ hour sessions with some sprints.
Swimming provides me with a great mental health release, it’s good that way because if you’re running you’ve got cars and traffic to think about, if you’re biking, the same thing, but for swimming you can just let yourself go and count the laps, it really is a good place to disconnect, at least for me.
DH: I ride my horse twice a week fairly intensively which is a lot of core movements and core strength which are some of the muscles missed in swimming. So I count that as sort of a cross training thing and I love riding my horse.
CFA: What would you like people to know in terms of what this challenge can bring for awareness and changes for these threats for Lake Erie?
DH: I think the benefit of the Lake Erie Challenge is showing people Lake Erie is a good recreational resource but also a need to really take ownership and protect it from those threats that we have. I think a lot of people kind of forget it’s in their backyard. If they see it as a place that has benefit to them they will be more likely to preserve it. I’ve worked in Sydney, Australia, New Zealand and other places around the world and they have open water swim competitions all the time and those clubs do a huge part in outreach and education to keep the oceans clean, and we don’t have that culture here in Southwestern Ontario yet. Events like the Lake Erie Challenge can go a long way towards getting people to really engage with the lake and form that sort of ownership connection to it.
Donate here to support Dennis in the challenge!