Olympic gold medalist Vanderkaay joins local swimmers at Swim Teal Lake

MARQUETTE – As a champion swimmer at the NCAA and Olympic levels, Peter Vanderkaay came to the second annual 2005 Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes just as a spectator.

Now that he’s recently retired from the sport, he’ll be the featured celebrity speaker and participant at the 10th annual edition of the event, which takes place Saturday morning in Negaunee and Ishpeming.

Vanderkaay’s aunt and uncle, Annette and Chris Brooks, are former Marquette residents who now live in the Escanaba area. He’s been visiting them and other relatives “up north” from his base in the Detroit area as part of his trek to Teal Lake to encourage participants who have helped raise more than $80,000 in the event’s first nine years.

Vanderkaay won high school state titles while attending downstate Rochester Adams, then went on to the University of Michigan when he captured six NCAA and 14 Big Ten Conference titles.

By 2004, he had joined swimmers like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in helping the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal in Athens in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay that the Americans were in the unaccustomed position of not being the favorites.

He later won other world titles and took his first individual Olympic medal, a bronze, at the ’08 Olympics in Beijing, along with another relay gold medal. He also competed at his third Olympics in 2012 in London before announcing he was retiring as a competitive swimmer in February.

He’s glad to help out a charitable event like the Swim Teal Lake for Diabetes.

“In 2005, I just came to watch and I didn’t step into the lake,” he said while in transit in the northern Lower Peninsula on Wednesday morning. “I’m excited to come there this year and take part.

“I just hope people aren’t disappointed if they’re looking for a fast time from me.”

The 2-mile swim heads west from the beach in Negaunee across to the shore at Al Quaal Park in Ishpeming.

Since retiring from the sport at the ripe old age of 29, Vanderkaay has enjoyed life like he couldn’t while in training.

“Mostly, I’ve been doing a lot of swimming clinics all over the country,” he said. “I’ve been able to do a lot of great things I couldn’t do when I was training because it’s so time consuming and physically taxing.

“This winter, for example, I went skiing for the first time in 15 years.”

He also helps out at charitable events like Swim Teal Lake.

“I try to do what I can,” he said.

On Saturday, he’ll speak to participants, telling a story or two and sharing some advice about subjects like motivation, before jumping in and participating with the other swimmers.

While pre-registration closed last weekend, late registration will be available on Saturday morning up to a half-hour before the two starting times, 8:30 a.m. for beginners and 9 a.m. for the competitive race.

The race is open only to those who can swim the course’s length, though a safety net of kayaks, canoes and electric motor boats will accompany participants.

The event began in 2004 when Dr. Michael Grossman enlisted the help of Bell Hospital and the Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network to organize a swim on the lake to raise money for a local diabetes family camp and raise awareness of the health benefits of exercise.

UPDON uses proceeds for promoting the camp and other related projects.

Organizers are still seeking a few volunteers to kayak along the course. For more information on participating or volunteering, visit the event website at teallakeswim.com, call the UPDON office at 228-9203 or email cambensyk@upcap.org.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.