Taking the plunge: Area attorney plans to swim English Channel for charity

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Attorney Amanda Mercer invites everyone to join her in "swimming the English Channel" this summer, to raise money to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). But you don't need to grab a mask and flippers and head for the white cliffs of Dover. You can even stay on dry land.

While Mercer and five other women will take the plunge to raise funds for the nonprofit Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, others can do a "Virtual Crossing" by swimming, walking or running in support of this effort, or pledge donations to participants. For a $20 donation, you can track your progress on the group's website, and receive a commemorative "Channel for ALS" pin. Visit ChannelForALS.org, where you can also download an iPhone and iPad app called Kento for ALS. Donations to date total almost $32,000--the eventual goal is $120,000.

A "Bon Voyage, ALS!" send-off fund-raising party is set 6-10 p.m. on Thursday, July 12 at Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor, with details on the ChannelForALS.org website.

Mercer serves on the board of Ann Arbor Active Against ALS (A2A3), a group that supports Bob Schoeni, a University of Michigan professor diagnosed in 2008 with this disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Mercer is a friend and neighbor of Schoeni, his wife Gretchen, and two children.

Ironically, while Mercer was gearing up to help fight ALS, she developed her own serious health issues. Diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago, she has been undergoing chemotherapy at the University of Michigan Hospital, with her last appointment scheduled for July 11, some 10 days before she leaves for England--and with radiation treatment waiting on her return.

"Obviously I've been more limited than the others, I've been training a week on and a week off," she says. "Unfortunately, I've had the worst side effects and symptoms. But I've had this goal, and my husband and my dream of swimming the channel have helped keep me going."

Mercer is one of five women from Ann Arbor--plus one from Grosse Pointe--who will attempt the two-way, 18.2 nautical miles crossing in late July, hoping to break the current world record of 18 hours 59 minutes, set in 2007 by a team of Mexican women.

The first swimmer plans to enter the water in Dover on July 27. Each woman will be in the water for an hour at a time, while her five teammates stay warm on the boat, piloted by two British seamen, Captain Lance Oram and his father, Mike.

"We wanted the absolute best, and we heard Lance and Mike are experts," Mercer says.

As the team approaches Cap Griz Nez on the French coast, the swimmer will either touch the cliff or walk up the beach above the shoreline, before turning back to start the return relay.

After their cross-channel challenge, the swimmers hope to see the Olympics in London - especially the swimming events.

"Because Michael Phelps is so popular, we've heard the events are sold out, but we hope to get tickets somehow," Mercer says. "The swimming world is a tight community, so we hope someone may find us tickets."

A waterbaby from childhood, Mercer swam competitively for Michigan State University.

"Swimming takes me to my 'happy place,'" she says. "If I see water, I crave to dive in. Even if I don't feel up to it, I know swimming will make me feel better. It's very calming and soothing."

Launching this A2A3 Relay Team seemed a natural fund-raising idea. Four fellow mermaids were varsity swimmers and one played varsity water polo.

The women swam at Silver Lake in the Pinckney Recreation Area north of Ann Arbor last summer and fall, before moving to indoor pools to train, then back to the lakes in the spring, including Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair, and night swims in Silver Lake. They underwent a grueling 2-hour cold-water certification swim in Lake Huron to prove they can cope with swimming in water 61 degrees or colder.

The water in the Channel is expected to be from 58 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We've heard a strange thing, from people who've swum the Channel--that fresh water feels colder than saltwater," Mercer says. "We don't know if it's true, but we're hoping!"

Wetsuits are not allowed, and the women prefer not to use grease to keep their bodies warm, as it gets messy, and can get on their goggles.

Mercer, who decided on a law career after playing a prosecutor in a mock trial in second grade, might need her best mediation skills to persuade Neptune to warm up the water and keep the swells and jellyfish to a minimum.

A Wayne Law grad, she studied international affairs and alternative dispute resolution at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and worked as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Washtenaw County and as an Enforcement Representative for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, before starting her own practice. A certified civil mediator, she mediates in probate, landlord/ tenant, assault and battery, consumer/merchant, wrongful termination, age and disability discrimination, race discrimination, contract disputes, business dissolution, real estate, and local government; and volunteers at the Washtenaw Dispute Resolution Center.

"Ten years ago, I might have scoffed at the idea of mediation as being touchy-feely, but I've learned it's a very useful tool for solving problems, and I excel at that," she says. "Mediation, trial work and swimming--they're all about competition and striving for a better outcome."

Published: Mon, Jul 9, 2012

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