Blog: Ric Geyer

In the winter of its economic downturn, the city of Detroit is doing an upriver crawl. Jump in with Ric Geyer, managing partner of 4731 Consulting (and long-distance swimmer), as he discusses Citizens for Cities, heroism, and his annual 14-miler across Lake St. Clair.

Post 5: Swimming St. Clair

The first lesson is that you need to be your own medical advocate.  It's like the commercial currently running that suggests – "questions are the answer".  Ask questions until you understand what is happening to you and your loved ones.  No one else cares as much as you do.  

It starts in the fall of 2007 when we can't understand why our son Rickie is coughing all the time and can't seem to shake a case of bronchitis, or asthma, or allergies, or whatever else we heard 37 times since he was born.  After yet another unproductive visit to the doctor, we happen to come into the kitchen to find Rickie coughing so hard he's doubled over.  I hold him as he stands up, expecting to see him crying.  Instead, he's got a big smile on his face.  "It’s OK, Daddy.  I can always breathe after I cough like that".  If my wife had not gone back to the doctor and demanded that tests be run, they'd still be feeding him Robitussin.

After the tests are run, we wait seven days for results.  I cry constantly.  At one point, Rickie asks me out of the blue, "Daddy, do I have much life left?" On October 12th, 2007, we are told he has tested positive for cystic fibrosis.  

We go to our first hospital, where we are told that he is going to be watched and we are to "wait and see how he is after a couple of months".  "It is how we get a baseline on our patients", we are assured.  Well, after about six heart-wrenching weeks of listening to him cough every 30 seconds or so, we take him to the Mott Children's Hospital at the U of M.  Dr. Sami Nasr checks him out, and immediately orders him to stay in the facility.  He is there for nearly seven weeks.  When he comes out, he isn't coughing – at all.  How's that for a baseline?  

During this entire period, I swim whenever I can.  It's like therapy for me.  When I needed to get away and think, I would get in the pool and pound out the laps until I was exhausted.  

Early in the spring of '08, I decided to swim across Lake St Clair.  

To give us a goal on which to focus, to bring attention to cystic fibrosis, and to see if we could actually do it.  My friend Mike Stevens at the DAC had something to do with it as well.  The process itself was pretty easy.  Clearance from the Coast Guard, permission from the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (they were very helpful) and then more training.  Greg McDuffy, Mike Hutchinson and Derek Weaver all asked to join us.  And then suddenly, it's time.  

We awake to nasty skies and light winds, but they are out of the northeast, which puts the waves at our back.  The weather service is cautious, but we decide to go anyway. We're in the boat at 7:30 am, leaving the Yacht Club to cross Lake St Clair.  We're in the water by 8:15 and after 15 minutes of bravado, we take off from the west side of Gull Island.  We swim past the two Old South Channel Range lighthouses (1859), and then begin to make our way across the bay.  6-7 hours later we are nearing land at about the 9 mile tower.  After that, we swim another mile or so down the coast to the harbor.  

The overall distance is 13-14 miles, and the winds (NNE) tend to run in the opposite direction of the currents (SSW), causing these strange choppy waves which seem to run in two directions at once.  In a boat, it is annoying.  In the water, it can be exhausting.  And we pegged the water temp at between 67 and 73 last year – most of us wear neoprene swimming vests or full body suits.  The first year, I tried a neoprene vest over my trunks, but took it off after five miles because it was chewing up my shoulders.  Last year, we ended up cutting the sleeves off the vest and I finished in that.  It does provide a little buoyancy.  

Adrenaline takes it out of the boring category, and fear helps to keep it interesting.  The hardest part is spotting the 9 Mile Tower when you're just starting out, and then seeing it again every time you look up for the next 5-6 hours.  It is mind-numbingly frustrating.  But eventually, after about 15,000 strokes, you realize you are no longer focusing on the tower, you are now looking down the shoreline towards the tower at the Yacht Club.

Last year, with the end in sight, the wind suddenly shifted 180 degrees.  I remember the waves that had been coming over my back were suddenly coming straight at me, making breathing a challenge.  And then in a flash, the winds kicked up to about 40 mph, the waves rose to about 2 ½ feet and we got slammed with hail.  Mike Stevens blew a whistle and yelled at us to get into the boat.  By the time we climbed the ladder, we were getting pelted with rain, hail and high winds.  It was absolutely invigorating – making our way through the storm off the lake and into the harbor.  

It is some primordial urge to take on the elements, I think.  Whatever, it is a chance to get together with a group of guys and face a challenge together.  And it is for one of the best reasons I can think of that we do it.  It raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and for a Medical Trust Fund for Rickie to help him take care of future medical expenses.  It also raises overall awareness of the disease and the progress they are making to cure it.  And with your continued support, we will swim, and we will find a cure.  If you want to join us, or just help out, please check out the site and drop us a note.  
Oh, and Rickie continues to amaze us.  He is healthy and growing strong.  Thanks.