Motor City Mile raises money for cancer patients

July 6, 2011
Belle Isle Beach, Detroit
Cost: Donation

Charity walks and runs are a dime a dozen. But charity swims? Not many to speak of.

Enter the Motor City Mile, an open-water Detroit River swim that’s raised some $200,000 to date for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which funds education and support for cancer patients and their families. The event, which runs this year on July 6 at 9 a.m., is at Belle Isle Beach and includes a half-mile event, a one-mile and a 5 kilometer.

“Cancer touches all our lives,” said Shannon Dunworth, owner of Different Strokes swim shop in Livonia and founder of the Motor City Mile. The event gives swimmers a rare chance to raise money for a good cause, he said.

Now in its 12th year, the Motor City Mile has grown from about 37 people to more than 500 last year, Dunworth said. The event is gaining popularity around the metropolitan Detroit area, and has even drawn swimmers from Indiana, Ohio and Canada. This year, there’s a team of swimmers coming all the way from Australia.

Participants swim a one-mile triangle that runs from the beach and back and goes as deep as 20-some feet. One-mile entrants swim one triangle, half-mile entrants swim half of it and 5k entrants swim the triangle three times, and then swim the half-mile course.

The event is really for competitive swimmers, not beginners, said Dunworth.

Most experienced swimmers could easily swim a 5k, but being in the open water takes them out of their comfort zone, said Dunworth.

“The irony is, almost every competitive swimmer is so conditioned to the crystal clear water and lane markers. There’s a lot of anxiety.”

To ease that anxiety and maintain safety, Different Strokes has City of Detroit lifeguards on hand and monitors swimmers closely. “If we don’t like the way they’re looking, we pull them out,” Dunworth said.

Events are staggered, with 5k swimmers going first – since they have the most laps to complete – and milers and half-milers following, grouped into flights starting 10 minutes apart. Timing is monitored by electronic chips.

“We love having a lot of bodies in the water,” Dunworth said. “There’s safety in numbers.”

To that end, there’s a new lifeguard race this year. Certified lifeguards can race with their rescue tubes during the one-mile event. Their registration is free, and they get special t-shirts for participating.

Regular registration is a minimum $20 donation to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Participants get a t-shirt, refreshments after the event, a goodie bag and a chance to win raffle prizes and awards. First- through third-place winners in each age group get awards, plus there are awards for registered master swimmers and for male open and female open groups, which include all ages of swimmers who choose that group.

Dunworth said swimmers are used to not getting much recognition compared to other athletes, but this is an opportunity for them to showcase their talents and help fund a good cause.

“We’ll have 500 people in the water, 200 spectators and 100 volunteers,” Dunworth said. “That’s well over 800 people down at the Detroit River.”

Learn more about the Lance Armstrong Foundation at

Register for the Motor City Mile at by July 1. Onsite registration will be permitted on race day if there’s space, and the entry fee will be a minimum $30 donation.