By Sue Moore
Ullrey Drive on Indian Lake is the home of a championship swimmer that few know about, according to Jon Kachniewiecz, Vicksburg High School’s long-time track and field coach. Shelly Schafer, his next-door neighbor, can be seen each day in the summer, no matter the kind of weather, setting out on her two- to three-mile swim through the waters of Indian Lake from the dock right next to his house.
She is usually accompanied by her husband, Jim in a kayak to insure her safety as she swims toward the cove at the south end of the lake. If boaters see Jim first, the fishermen or skiers will give both a little more space. She avoids the ski jump on the east side and doubles back to the west after the workout. “If I don’t get my swim in each day, I can get a little crabby,” she jokes as she explains how getting in the water makes her feel better and keeps her 50-something body in good shape.
Schafer happens to be an NCAA swim champ as a competitor at Hope College in distance swimming and even in high school at Battle Creek Lakeview High School. At 18, she beat the boys in the Goguac YMCA open water swim meet. This summer, she again won the race over 162 other competitors with a time of 26 minutes, 4 seconds for the 1.15 miles. “I was the first girl out of the water this year,” as she has been six other times in her race at Goguac Lake. She holds lots of records and many trophies but has them stashed away somewhere in her home on Indian Lake.
In real life she is a nurse practitioner in Bronson Hospital’s Neo-Natal unit full time. She also drives to the University of Michigan Hospital part time to work in their Neo-Natal unit each week. She manages about 50 babies on each shift along with a partner. They oversee all the care plans for babies in the unit. It is stressful but she feels being a part of saving these babies lives also makes her feel a little bit better. It’s a huge responsibility and she’s been doing it for 30 years now with no end in sight.
The move to the Indian Lake residence took place over five years ago when she and Jim were looking for a large lake where she could swim each day. They brought their two girls up in Portage where Jim is the swim coach for Portage Central and the head of the physical education department. She has been swimming since she was eight years old, competing with her older brothers who were swimmers. “I’m not so good at sprints as my muscles are more tuned to distances,” she admits. She swims all winter long inside at Bronson’s Athletic Club in between her hectic hospital schedule.
Schafer is adept at the repetitive nature of distance swimming. “It’s pace work. Each 100 yards is the same as before.“ She competes all over the state in the summer and even in a big race in Chicago in late August. The water temperature has to be around 71 degrees to be outside from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “The people on Indian Lake were not sure what to make of me when I first moved here. Now they are friendly and give me wide berth out on the water,” she says.
“I love the peace and quiet of the lake any time of the year. Even the nearby trains don’t bother me. We have great neighbors, respectful of each other with little get-togethers. They know when to be private and when to be social,” she says. “We like the small town feel of Vicksburg and the little things that we have been exposed to, such as Stubby’s and even the flooding on this part of the lake this summer. We had lots of turtles and fish in our yard but it’s all part of living on a lake.”