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Buford man swims Lake Lanier to raise awareness about water quality, quantity
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John Fox, 35, points out the path he took when swimming on Lake Lanier Sept. 25 to raise awareness about the lake’s water quality and quantity. The path goes from Buford Dam in the southern part of the lake upstream to Browns Bridge, which spans Lanier at the Hall and Forsyth County lines. - photo by Erin O. Smith

While some may be worried about dipping a toe into Lake Lanier, John Fox dove into the water and swam 11 miles, all to raise awareness about keeping the lake clean and full.

“The waters here mean a lot to me, so I thought what better way (to convey a message) than to swim across it?” he said in an interview last week at his Buford home.

Fox, 35, made the nine-hour trek Sept. 25 from Buford Dam in the southern part of the lake upstream to Browns Bridge, which spans Lanier at the Hall and Forsyth County lines.

He had grown up around Lanier and had done some swimming in it, and he has a background in endurance athletics, but not swimming.

So, “there was definitely a learning process that took place,” Fox said, “and it took me a couple of years to do it. Swimming is so technique-based. Finally, this year, I was able to go out and do it.”

He trained in the waters near Buford Dam for six to seven days per week for about four months before the swim.

“I would divide it up between easy swims and hard swims, or long swims, that kind of thing,” Fox said.

He originally considered swimming a longer stretch of Lanier, or about 20 miles, but decided “that was a bit much.”

Also, during training, “I stressed out my rotator cuff, which is pretty common if you overtrain,” Fox said. “I couldn’t get in the miles that I wanted to keep up with the kind of training to do a 20-mile swim.”

On the day of the swim, his sister, Catherine Fox Augestad of Marietta, served as Fox’s navigator, paddling ahead in her kayak.

Every hour, she would give him a protein and carbohydrate-enhanced drink that would “fuel” him on his journey.

The trip “went by so quickly,” Fox said. “I think the training was the most difficult part. That was the real trial. Once I got (on the lake), it was just a matter of achieving the objective.

“It was really a fun trip, just a great time. It was like hanging out with my sister on the lake for a day.”

Augestad said she “was excited to be able to (go the distance) alongside him.”

“I wasn’t sure if I could paddle for that distance, but I was willing to give it a go,” she said.

At the same time, Fox said he was abiding by rules set by the Marathon Swimmers Foundation.

“I couldn’t use the boat for flotation,” Fox said. “You can stop and refuel, but you’re treading water, essentially.”

Otherwise, the trip itself wasn’t too difficult.

“The weather was great,” Fox said. “The main challenge was the boats. We had to do it on a weekend because that was the only day my sister could get off work.”

The wakes left behind by boat traffic did make it a little tricky to navigate.

“It’s not like swimming in calm water,” Fox said.

After the swim, he was tired but not beyond exhaustion.

“You train to finish strong, so I wasn’t as exhausted as I thought I would be,” Fox said. “I was sore the next day, that’s for sure. You want to sleep, eat and rest, and that’s pretty much it.”

He said it was all worth it, though, as he teamed up with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper on sounding a message about key water issues hounding Lanier.

The lake has long had issues with pollution from various sources, such as trash, fertilizers and bacteria.

“If there was trash present or toxins in the water, I knew about it from swimming in the water and being close to the shores,” Fox said. “And obviously, the quantity is an issue.”

The Lake Lanier area is in extreme drought and the reservoir is showing the signs, with more and more shoreline being exposed.

Janet Westervelt, Gainesville-based headwaters outreach manager for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the organization “is excited to have John bring focus to the importance of water.”

“Water quality and quantity are issues that people tend to take for granted,” she said.

Fox said he may do another swim but not locally.

“Having an affinity for the waters around New England, having sailed there, there’s a big open water swim there,” he said. “I’d like to do that.”

It’s an area that has worse water quality issues, stemming from aging sewer systems.

“But it’s gotten better and if it hasn’t rained in a while, they say the water is still safe,” Fox said.

 
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