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Extreme team
These two adventure seekers share a love for grueling challenges

By MARK CONCANNON

June 2014

Jamie Patrick will be attempting to set a new record when he tries swimming nonstop from Milwaukee to Chicago.

 

"The desire or need for risk varies by each personís innate personality," says Dr. Jennifer Heinemann, clinic director and psychologist at Psychological Health Services in Brookfield. "Pair a need for risk-taking with someone who likes to be outdoors and physical, and you have extreme sports." What follows are the stories of two people from the extreme edges of extreme sports.

At 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 18, Jamie Patrick will enter the water at South Milwaukee Yacht Club and begin a 71-mile, 42-consecutive-hour swim to Chicagoís Navy Pier, the longest still-water swim in recorded history. "I like to do marathon and adventure swims that have never been done before," says Patrick, who lives outside of San Francisco. He was a high school All-American swimmer and competed at the University of Hawaii.

"I thought it would be cool to swim between two iconic cities," he says.

What Patrick calls "cool," most people would consider crazy. But this is a relatively sane effort compared with some of his other exploits.

He has completed 15 Ironman triathalons and two Ultraman World Championships, where he circumnavigated Hawaiiís Big Island with a 6-mile ocean swim; two 180-mile bike rides and a double marathon. In 2003, he finished a Triple Ironman event in Virginia where he swam 7.2 miles, biked 336 and ran 78 miles during 46 straight hours.

Patrick once developed a 6-inch blister on his foot during a marathon, had a race doctor lance it, apply Krazy Glue, wrap his foot in duct tape and put the shoe back on so Patrick could finish the race. He also spent three days in the hospital after a double-crossing of Lake Tahoe.

Eric Larsen recently completed his third trip to the North Pole.

 

"Iíve hung up my running shoes and cycling helmet. It took up too much time. And at some point my wife is going to put the brakes on," says the 43-year-old Patrick. "The reason I am going for this record now is I am over 40. I donít think Iíll ever quit swimming, but I donít think Iím going to come back and go 80 miles the next time."

Patrick says there is an endless list of places heíd like to swim but is focusing on Chicago in August, training by swimming 60 to 75 miles a week, including overnight sessions to get his body used to sleep deprivation. Heís also securing sponsors because heíll need around $50,000 to pay for his 14-person support team, which includes everyone from sports psychologists to nutritionists. (Heíll eat every half-hour during the swim with food sent to him by a rope-and-pulley system attached to the team boat.)

"Iíve always said swimming is a great sport you can do until the day you die," he says. "Iíll do it forever."

While open water is a thrilling sight for Patrick, it is the most daunting of vistas for Eric Larsen. The Cedarburg native, who now lives in Colorado, is a veteran arctic explorer, recently completing his third trip to the North Pole. Along with his travel partner, Ryan Waters, Larsen trekked 480 miles in an American record time of 53 days. Due to vast stretches of open water, the final portion of that treacherous journey was the hardest.

When his trip started at Ellesmere Island, Larsen soon discovered he was in a league of his own. "No one had completed a North Pole expedition since the last one I did in 2010," he says. People ó my wife included ó thought I was crazy to go back to this place."

For good reason. Since this was an unsupported trip, which means no planes dropped provisions along the route, Larsen and his partner pulled sleds weighing 320 pounds, carrying nearly two months of supplies. At times, the two men would team up to pull one sled for a mile, walk back and pull the other sled. They skied, snowshoed and swam (the sleds are designed to float) through some of the worst weather on the planet.

But Larsen braved all of the elements because he felt this would be his last chance to make this journey. "The weather is less stable," he says. "What we saw this year was consistently rougher ice because the ice is thinner."

Larsen and his partner arrived at the pole hungry, exhausted and with little fanfare ó "thereís no marker at the spot." They celebrated "by putting up the tent and going to sleep."

Larsen financially supports his travels through sponsors and by working as an arctic guide and trainer, through speaking engagements and a small video company. (Animal Planet is using footage from his last trip for a documentary to air in early 2015.)

Larsen says one of the hardest parts of this trip was leaving behind his wife, Maria, and 18-month-old son, Merritt. Larsen, like Patrick, realizes he is also a family man. (Patrick and his wife have a 4-year-old daughter.) "There were a couple of times this last trip where I was truly scared by conditions and with a couple of close encounters with polar bears," Larsen says. "But taking those risks is part of who I am. Iím trying to find a balance between those two things. But I donít know if Iíll ever be able to do that."

 


This story ran in the February 2014  issue of: