Pa. woman recalls exhausting swim across Lake Erie in '93

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NORTH EAST, Pa. -- Halli Reid sat in front of a cozy fire as Steven Wargo emerged onto Freeport Beach in North East in the early morning hours of Aug. 1.

Ms. Reid couldn't relax. She understood the pain Mr. Wargo felt during every stroke and the sting he endured from the chilly water.

She understood the doubts that may have crept into the South Euclid, Ohio, native's mind on his way to becoming the 17th person to swim across Lake Erie.

Ms. Reid has been there, done that.

On Aug. 9, 1993, Ms. Reid overcame the cold water, the intense pain in her shoulder and thoughts of quitting to finish what she called "the hardest thing I have ever done in my life." Ms. Reid, the first woman and fourth person overall to complete that swim, recalled thoughts of her 17-hour, 24-mile trek as Mr. Wargo completed his swim shortly after 4 a.m. Aug. 1.

Wesleyville resident Mike Ferritto had finished his swim at Freeport Beach about seven hours earlier.

Memories have arisen in Ms. Reid's mind each time someone has completed the swim over the past 20 years.

Actually, they are on the North East native's mind every morning as she walks along Freeport Beach, especially as she reaches the spot where she capped a two-year journey that began in local swimming pools.

That spot, Ms. Reid said, is a stone's throw from her home at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek.

Ms. Reid has come a long way since the daily training sessions for that endeavor.

Back then, Ms. Reid was a 24-year-old college graduate, YMCA swim coach and part-time employee at her family's lumber yard.

She had enough free time to spend two years preparing for the challenge.

She was inspired to reach her goal after watching Bob North and Harvey Snell swim across Lake Erie four years earlier.

Ms. Reid also was motivated to become the first woman to finish that swim. "I think I can do it," Ms. Reid recalled thinking at the time.

She didn't gain any weight that first year, which prompted doctors to tell the 5-foot 2-inch, 120-pound Ms. Reid that she wouldn't last more than four hours in the cold water.

So she added 20 pounds during her second year of training.

Yet halfway through the swim, around midnight that night, she was ready to quit.

Then she thought of the people who supported her -- her mother and sister, who attended all of those training swims; her father, who took a day off from the lumber yard for the first time to support her; her brother, who came in from Rochester, N.Y., to see her; and friends, some of whom traveled from Boston.

"I couldn't disappoint them, even though [I felt like] I was dying," Ms. Reid said. "I don't know if adrenaline took over. I don't really remember from a mile out to two hours later on my patio. It's crazy. It's all a blur."

Her sister, Sarah Land, 42, remembers those final moments. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house," she said.

At that moment, Ms. Reid didn't think about being the first woman to swim across Lake Erie. "I don't think it matters if you're a man or a woman," she said. "It's just an amazing feat."

Ms. Reid headed back out on the water eight years ago, but not for a swim. She supported Sara McClure, one of Ms. Reid's former swim students, from a kayak while Ms. McClure completed her swim across Lake Erie on Aug. 8, 2005. Ms. Reid has seen several others finish their swims. It has been memorable every time.

"I would never, ever do it again," said Ms. Reid, now a mother of two who also coaches the cross country team at North East High School. Instead, she will live vicariously through others.

"It was so hard. It was so emotionally and physically exhausting," she said. "I can totally sympathize with them."

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