Great Lakes Researcher, SUNY Fredonia Professor Completes 15.5 Mile Swim

Great Lakes researcher and SUNY Fredonia professor Sherri Mason reaches the finish line of her 15.5-mile swim on Chautauqua Lake on Monday. Starting at Lakeside Park in Mayville, she finished at Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron. The swim was timed at 10 hours and 37 minutes. P-J photo by Jimmy McCarthy

CELORON — Nothing but elation emanated from Sherri Mason as she emerged from Chautauqua Lake on Monday having completed a 15.5-mile swim.

Upon her exit from the water, she acknowledged being a little waterlogged too. Nonetheless at age 44, Mason said it’s her biggest physical achievement to date.

Starting at Lakeside Park in Mayville just before 6 a.m., Mason began a momentous journey as she swam the length of the lake. Mason, a Great Lakes researcher and SUNY Fredonia professor, approached the finish line at Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron around 4:40 p.m. Her official swim time was 10 hours, 37 minutes and 46 seconds.

Mason was originally planning to start in Celoron. Due to the winds and direction of the waves, the decision was made to start in Mayville.

Friends and family waited for Mason while The Summer Wind blasted “Celebration” as she neared the finish line.

“The first 10 miles were pretty smooth,” Mason said. “The last five (miles) were really hard because the southern basin had a lot of waves.”

For Mason, the purpose for the swim on Chautauqua Lake, and the upcoming one on Lake Erie, was to convey her love for the water and the Great Lakes freshwater system. Mason has conducted extensive studies on plastic pollution within the Great Lakes. Her findings have shown plastic particles within the five lakes with counts on Erie and Ontario lakes rivaling amounts found within the ocean.

The swims are also serving as a mechanism to raise issue with President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to vital programs and plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a program supporting cleanup and research, is on the administration’s chopping block as well as the NOAA Sea Grant program.

“We don’t have life without water,” Mason said. “I’m really scared with the current political climate that those protections are going to go away. To see all of that protection be annihilated, it depresses me.”

The swim on Chautauqua Lake served as Mason’s qualifier run for her upcoming swim on Lake Erie on Aug. 19. While she originally intended to swim the standard 24-mile Lake Erie crossing, from Long Point, Canada to Northeast, Pa., she decided instead to participate in the first ‘Embrace the Challenge: Lake Erie Crossing’ event due to logistics. The swim is approximately 12.3 miles.

To qualify for the Lake Erie swim, Mason only needed to complete 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, in 4 hours. Mason spent the last year training long hours for the swims.

Mason said she’ll take some time off before she begins training on what she calls “a different beast in Lake Erie.”

A powerboat accompanied Mason on the swim along with kayakers Jeff Bloodworth and Jeremy Woolson. The group provided Mason with nutritional and safety support while acting as guides during the swim.