'Epic' record-holder swims between Manitou Islands

Jon Ornée has had fun setting records, from cycling to swimming. It's all part of living an "Epic" life for the Holland resident. On Sept 10, he completed what is believed to be the first-ever swim from North Manitou Island to South Manitou Island. 
Jon Ornée arriving to start the swim. (Jon Ornée)
Ornée started swimming from Donner’s Point on North Manitou Island at 7:45 a.m. and reached shore at Gull Point on South Manitou Island at 9:24 a.m. The swim was 4 miles and took 1 hour and 39 minutes. 

The conditions couldn’t have been better, with very little wind, 64 degree water and 53 degree air at 7 a.m., warming up to 60 degrees by 10 a.m. 

“This was just a perfect morning,” says Ornée. 

“My family was camping on South Manitou Island last weekend, and on our last morning my wife and I went for a run along the beach and stopped at Gull Point to look across at North Manitou. It was super windy last weekend and there were huge waves on the lake. Whenever I look across a body of water and see land in the distance, I think, ‘I’d like to swim across.’ I come from a family of swimmers. It’s just in our DNA, I think.

“On the very rough ferry ride back to the mainland last Sunday, I thought – it’s late in the season, but if Mother Nature gives me a weather window, I want to come back and swim across,” he says.

Jon Ornée nears the end of his North Manitou Island to the South Manitou Island on Sept. 10, 2023. (Jon Ornée)
Ornée was accompanied by an “awesome” crew aboard a lead boat – Captain Ted Lockwood, Justin and Fin Acker, and his wife, Necia Ornée. 

Efficient route

The strategy was for the lead boat to keep a steady pace and provide a straight path to Gull Point while dragging a 25-yard lane line in the water. Ornée swam beside the lane line – an efficient way to maintain a straight course in the open water that allowed him to alternate between freestyle and backstroke, which is his preferred method on long-distance swims. 

Jon Ornée with Captain Ted Lockwood, Justin and Fin Acker. (Jon Ornée)
He swam about two-thirds freestyle and one-third backstroke during the crossing. 

Ornée is not new to Lake Michigan swimming adventures. In September 2019, he completed the first-ever recorded swim from the mainland to North Manitou Island – a 7.4 mile swim from Pyramid Point – just 4 months after being hit by an SUV while cycling and undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
Jon Ornée with his wife, Necia, on the boat. (Jon Ornée)
In 2020, Ornée recruited five other swimmers, including his brother Dave, to swim relay-style across Lake Michigan from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, to Ludington in an event they dubbed Epic Swim 2020. The 54-mile, through-the-night adventure took the team just under 21 hours to complete. It was the first relay-style mid-lake crossing and by far the fastest swim crossing.

Ornée conceived of the lane line strategy in 2020 and used it in this swim.

Other endurance feats 

Jon also holds several ultra-endurance cycling world records, including:
– Fastest 100 miles by bike (while drafting) – 2 hours 20 minutes/42.6 mph avg
– Fastest crossing of Michigan (west to east) – 205 miles/24.8 mph
– Fastest crossing of Michigan (south border to north border) – 369 miles/23.2 mph

Ornée points out that all of his endurance adventures were possible only with the help of his support crews and teammates. 
Map showing Jon Ornée's swim from the North Manitou Island to the South Manitou Island on Sept. 10. (Jon Ornée)
“I obviously couldn’t have done it without them, so I’m super grateful.”

The only minor hiccups on his latest effort were leg cramps. 

“My calves cramped up several times during the swim, but thankfully my arms were feeling good and I was able to work out the cramps while swimming,” Ornée says.

He says the accomplishment feels all the more special because of his crew, including his wife.

“I loved having my wife, Necia, along this time. She’s a teacher, and she wasn’t able to join me for my swim to North Manitou Island in 2019 because the weather window was on a school day,” Ornée says. 

‘This wondrous lake’

“Super grateful for so much,” he says. “I love this area. I love these islands. I’m smitten with this wondrous lake – grateful that she allowed me safe passage again this morning and that Mother Nature provided another perfect gift.”

Jon Ornée at the finish line at South Manitou Island on Sept. 10. (Jon Ornée)

When he’s not adventuring, Ornée spends most of his time on real estate, where the former musician, who bills himself as the (Not Your Average) Realtor, is known for creating music videos to highlight the homes he sells.

His real estate team has a focus on the lakeshore. Not surprisingly, Ornée’s favorite homes are Lake Michigan waterfront. 

You can learn more about Ornée’s "epic" adventures at JonOrnee.com and his real estate business at  TeamJono.com.

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