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Ex-Pitt swimmer again handles Lake Erie

| Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Josh Heynes decided within minutes of learning that his record time for swimming across Lake Erie had been broken that he would swim the roughly 24.3 miles again.

That was in 2009.

On Saturday, he became the first person to swim Lake Erie twice and set a speed record by completing the distance in 11 hours, 16 minutes, 40 seconds — roughly seven minutes faster than Randy McElwain two years earlier.

He also used the attempt to raise funds and awareness for the Erie-based Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, which is working to develop a new non-invasive form of treatment.

"I have friends, co-workers, family and teammates that had had cancer, and watching them go through that was disheartening," said Heynes, 36, who swam at Pitt from 1994-97. "My wife and I always said if there was ever anything we could do to help, we would."

Heynes first swam across Lake Erie in 2006, completing the trip in 11:53:36. A native of Erie, he said he grew up staring at the lake every day, dreaming of swimming across it.

To prepare for this trip, Heynes trained seven days per week for 10 months and logged 1,000 miles in the water in addition to time in the weight room and the offices of sports psychologists to help him prepare mentally.

He was supported by two boats with five kayakers who helped feed him a mixture of carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes hourly during the swim. Six miles in, Heynes grew nauseated.

"It had never happened before, but every time I'd take a breath, I swallowed a little water," he said. "Everything kind of reversed on me, and that was six miles in. I knew if I didn't have anything in my system and had 18 more miles, it was going to be real interesting. But the team stuck with me, and from Mile 9 through 12, I really improved. The last six miles were the hardest, but we pushed through."

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