Lucky’s Lake Swim Review
“We provide all alligators for free. There is no extra or hidden charge” boasts the Lucky’s Lake Swim website.
After reading that I knew my casual google search for open water swimming in Orlando had struck gold. My family and I were on vacation and I hoped to get some training in during my time in Florida.
Not only are the alligators provided, but Lucky’s Lake Swim is a totally free event happening daily. In a world of $1000 entry fees for Ironman triathlons, I figured there had to be a catch. Who would open up his own home and let strangers come each day for a 1k swim in the warm Florida lake waters? As it turns out, Dr. “Lucky” Meisenheimer would. Besides creating a swim with a cult following, Lucky has quite the resumé. One needs only to glance at Dr. Meisenheimer’s wiki page to discover the man who is the cross-section of medical doctor, author, former collegiate swimmer, actor, yo-yo enthusiast, family man, and foot-in-mouth-swim record holder. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
Am I in the right place?
I drove to Lake Cane, entering Lucky’s lakefront property around 6:00 am and parked beneath an outdoor basketball hoop. A regular to the pre-dawn ritual greeted me, “You swimming today?” Al Johnson, a Vietnam Vet, took me down to the dock and got me the orange clip-on float buoy, required for all newbies, including “Michael freaking Phelps” as the website states. He traded my signed waiver for a green swim cap and we set our gear on the dock. Al noticed my outsized military tattoos and told me he had served with the 173rd in Vietnam. Apparently, I’m not the only veteran-turned-endurance-junkie out there. Al and a pair of former Air Force F-16 pilots were regulars.
It was then that I noticed a hungry gator just a few inches deep staring up at me. “It’s not real!” Al chided me after glancing my open jaw. Good to know.
The swim starts at 6:30 on weekdays, so it would not be light until halfway through. The other regulars showed up, some with wetsuits because it was likely the coldest swim of the year. In central Florida, this means 63º, which felt like a bath tub compared to the San Francisco Bay. And to boot, the water was a full 20º warmer than the air temperature that morning! A novel experience for a west-coaster like me.
When it finally reached half past six we all paddled out and began our lake crossing, keeping left of the buoys. Of course I wasn’t thinking about gators biting my legs, or arms, or neck. Nope. Quickly those thoughts disappeared as I settled into the familiar rythm of stroke and breath. The silence of early morning complimented the still, dark waters of Lake Cane. The only sounds were my breathing and the splash of my hands entering the water. Soon enough I touched my feet to the soft banks on the opposite side of the lake. Halfway there.
During the trip back a sunrise slowly peaked over mossy oak trees and simplified the sighting back to Lucky’s dock. A thick mist hung over the Lake Cane’s surface, catching the orange rays of the dawn. Twenty-seven minutes after I had jumped in, my hands reached the dock and feet found purchase on the shore. My first crossing was complete!
The air temp. was still in the 40’s. Warm up back in the truck with the heater on, I figured, until I heard someone call out to me “you gotta try the hot tub!” A quick rinse and then into the tub. Heaven. I chatted with a few of the other regulars who were happy to hear about my swims in the Pacific. They were used to the out-of-towners and glad to hear about my first time here in Lake Cane. They told me about the duck who sometimes made the crossing with them and a Jack Rusell terrier who also completed multiple swims. Why not?
Fully reheated, I stepped out and was promptly handed the first-timer’s goodie bag. It included a bumper sticker, patch, and log sheet to track all my future crossings. Swimmers are given various caps and shirts after milestone crossings (25, 50, 100, etc.).
Lucky himself took me to sign the wall and was nice enough to snap a picture with me, talking about how it all came together back in 1989 when he first organized the group swims. Eventually, it grew from him and a couple friends to dozens of people a day and sometimes 200 plus swimmers on summer weekends. Crowds like that sound like great training for an Ironman mass swim start, but I was grateful for the relative solitude my group of seven afforded me that morning.
I always enjoy the feeling of starting my day with a good swim, especially in open water. But more than the exercise, the feeling of community and shared experience made Lucky’s Lake Swim special. Not only was there a tight-knit group of regulars, but they extended that welcome to me, a tourist. When it comes down to it, the shared experience is what makes this special.
Driving back from Lake Cane, I smiled. Only 24 more crossings until I earned that white swim cap!
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