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8-Mile Swim In Lake Michigan

Meet the marathon swimmer who covered 8 miles in Lake Michigan to raise money for low-income high school students.

Brother Matt Wooters, SJ, climbed into the water at Loyola University and swam to Navy Pier — a swim that raised over $25k for students from Spanish-speaking homes. Though he was inspired by the community at Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen, he also finds swimming to be a way to enter a flow state.

“Your kind of brain turns off, and then I can just be really present in that moment,” he shares. “And that for me, feels like I’m in touch with God. I’m in touch with the water.”

Video Transcript

Meet Brother Matt Wooters, SJ, a marathon swimmer from Chicago.

Brother Matt: Imagine training on a treadmill, if you’re a runner, for your whole life. And then running through the jungle, being chased by tigers. That’s the equivalent of open-water swimming. There’s a lot of variables that you cannot control.

Matt is a Jesuit brother. He jumps into the water of Lake Michigan on a sunny day. He’s swimming eight miles in Lake Michigan to raise money for Cristo Rey High School.

It’s a great sense of community. Everyone’s so friendly, they remember your name. It almost feels like a morning ritual. We all come and watch the sunrise together. It’s like wonder and awe. And then, jump in, swim, and start our days.

Brother Matt is swimming just off the shore next to some wildlife on the rocks.

This bird is so nuts.

I’m excited. I think I’ve prepped as well as I can. I swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco. I swam from the Golden Gate Bridge around San Francisco to the Bay Bridge. So, I’ve done a couple of these swims, but never this long. This will be my longest attempt. As they say: It’s up to God now. 

Brother Matt is on the shore in the dark at 5 a.m., preparing to start his eight-mile swim. 

Can we say prayer real quick? God, we give thanks for the gift of today and the gift of this community… All right guys. 

So, the flow state, when your kind of brain turns off, and then I can just be really present in that moment. And that for me, that feels like I’m in touch with God, I’m in touch with the water. 

I’ve been swimming my whole life, and some of my first experiences of prayer were actually when I was little when I was swimming. And being in the bottom of the deep end, when I was like 5 years old, and seeing all the lights and the colors and it’s so quiet and it’s so big and scary.

Friends on the shore whistle and shout to Matt as he swims. 

Friend: Let’s go. Looking good out there, keep it up. We’re all proud of you.

A community organizer gives instructions to people on a beach who are there to welcome Matt at the end of his swim at 11:30 a.m.

Organizer: Once we get closer, when you see him starting to walk out, run — and then that’s when we will have the tunnel. Yeah, okay. So let’s make our way over there.

Friends continue to cheer Matt as he finishes his swim. 

High school staff member: The essence of Cristo Rey is our community, and he just really embodied that in a very different way, in a very cool way. And we’re just so inspired and grateful to Brother Matt. We’ll never forget it.

Brother Matt: I’m really happy to be affiliated with something so beautiful. And, to be swimming along, and hearing people shout — I don’t know, that’s really moving for me. This wasn’t really about me, you know what I mean? It’s how good our God is. And if I can be a small part in that, then awesome. 

Brother Matt is wearing sandals as he talks.

This is not the normal garb — this is the swim day garb. Like Jesus — Jesus wore sandals. Come on. I’m just modeling Christ.

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