Published August 14, 2013
“The human body is an amazing machine but it has its limitations. The human spirit knows no limitations when driven by something larger than you.” –Jim Dreyer aka "The Shark"
A week ago while co-hosting “Happening Now” on Fox News with my colleague Jenna Lee, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Dreyer. The native of Michigan is the only man to have set records for swimming across all five Great Lakes. It has earned him the reputation of being known as “The Shark.”
Later, Dreyer told me that he is a man who believes in walking by faith, not by sight. Of course that is easier said than done, particularly when you’re facing what appears to be insurmountable problems.
Dreyer acknowledges that Detroit is facing such problems. Hard times have fallen on his home state, especially for the people of Detroit, a city that he loves. The decline of this once great and prosperous city is of particular concern to Dreyer.
After Detroit announced it was filing for bankruptcy because it could no longer meet its financial obligations, Dreyer saw the once thriving city become a dwelling place of hopelessness. So he sought to do something that he hoped would lift the spirits of people living in the beleaguered city. He wants them to know they can rise again. It will be difficult, he adds, but Detroit can rise again.
Dreyer says; “We don’t have to sink with the weight of our burdens. We can pull together and we can pull ourselves up.”
So "The Shark" dove into the waters of Lake St. Clair and began a personal quest of swimming 22 miles (farther than the English Channel) from Algonac to Belle Isle near Detroit.
The journey was already difficult but Dreyer added the task of hauling two zodiacs filled with a ton of bricks to call attention to Habitat for Humanity’s campaign to Rebuild Michigan.
During his interview on "Happening Now," he told us: “Bricks are obviously very symbolic of building," he added. "There's a message of hope that we wanted to deliver, that we don't have to sink with the weight of our burdens."
The oddity of Dreyer’s extreme swimming is that he is a man who does it afraid. As a child he survived a near drowning. He learned how to swim at age thirty two. He still has a fear of deep water. It’s a fear that he faces each time he enters the water.
He set a goal of completing the difficult swim in 30 hours but complications quickly arose when he found himself swimming against the tide with four foot waves crashing against him.
The weight of the bricks, the waves pounding him, and struggling against the water all began taking its toll on Dreyer’s body and mind.
Fear began to taunt him. He began to doubt himself; “What am I doing? I can’t finish this swim. Besides, I’m afraid of the water, I’m afraid of drowning.”
Yes, in the middle of this self-inflicted challenge, Jim began to wrestle with the demons of fear, doubt and uncertainty.
It has an uncanny irony to what some citizens of Detroit are feeling. Can their city make a comeback?
How will they make it when a tidal wave of debt, unemployment, crime and mismanagement is crashing against them, how will they save themselves from drowning in a sea of despair?
Dreyer told me; “I was in 3 to 4 foot waves pulling a ton of bricks. It’s like pushing an automobile over speed bumps.”
The grueling trek made Dreyer struggle with his faith. He yelled out to God; “Why won’t you help me?”
Dreyer says there are times when your physical strength is depleted and you feel like your body can’t go any further.
Your mental abilities are fatigued and you’re no longer thinking straight.
“That’s when you really do need a higher power because at that point you don’t have a lot of faculties left anymore.”
As Dreyer continued to battle against the waters of Lake St. Clair, he described how he began to hallucinate. He saw a vision of a man dressed in a white robe standing on the water.
Dreyer said he continued to swim towards the man, forgetting the weariness and pain coursing through his body. When he got to the man in white, the image disappeared.
But Dreyer says the experience renewed his vision of hope. Instead of feeling insane or afraid, he felt a surge of inspiration from that moment on.
He told me he began to recall and recite words of scripture out loud as he swam; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Dreyer recalls that during the last night of his swim, the waves subsided and off in the distance he could see a rainbow against a grey sky, which gave him more determination to make it to Belle Isle. Exhausted yet elated, Dreyer kissed the shore then triumphantly raised his hands to thank God for completing his mission.
Then, as he prepared to speak to reporters, a woman from Detroit with tears streaming down her face approached him. She hurriedly but gently pulled him aside to tearfully exclaim; “A lot of people think Detroit’s problem is apathy. It’s not apathy! It’s that people have given up hope. When you lose hope, you die inside.”
The woman continued, “I thought I would never lose hope. I heard about your swim and I just had to be here to see it. I want to thank you because you’ve given me back my life. You’ve restored my hope.”
Dreyer, now moved to tears, thanked the woman. He says her encouraging words will remain a source of inspiration for his entire life. Because of her, he says, the swim with all of its pain and agony was worth it.
Dreyer wanted me to tell you that God is the source of his strength. He has a message for people dealing with hard times: “Please don’t give up hope. It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we don’t lose sight of where our strength comes from.”
He adds, “Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our foundation. Brick by brick, stone by stone we can rebuild our broken cities and lives.”