Plastikos’ Rob Cooney completes 24.3-mile marathon swim across Lake Erie

Rob Cooney, Manufacturing Manager and a partner at Plastikos Inc. and Micro Mold Co., Inc. (Erie, PA), accomplished a milestone of a lifetime on July 19, 2018, when he completed a 24.3-mile marathon swim across Lake Erie. He crossed the lake from Long Point, ON, to Freeport Beach, PA, in 13 hours, 32 minutes.  

Only 23 people have completed the Lake Erie Swim since 1989, and for good reason. Participants are not permitted to use artificial assistance— wetsuits, fins, paddles, pull-buoys—of any kind. Swimmers must also swim “nonstop,” which means even the slightest touch or holding onto an escorting kayak eliminates contestants. Food stops are permitted, but only while treading water. Weather places a huge toll on contestants, as fluctuating waves, currents and wind force swimmers to go above and beyond the normal level of endurance.

Rob Cooney swims across Lake Erie
Rob Cooney, Manufacturing Manager and a partner at Plastikos Inc. and Micro Mold Co., Inc. (Erie, PA), is one of 23 people to complete a 24.3-mile marathon swim across Lake Erie. He was accompanied by good friend and supporter, Drew Paris.

It takes tremendous dedication to adequately prepare for this feat. Cooney made the commitment to train for the Lake Erie Swim in September 2017. With the help and guidance of several past Lake Erie swimmers, Rob engineered a rigorous training plan to ensure his success.  

“Without a strong family commitment and their encouragement, this swim would not be possible,” Cooney explained. 

In preparation, Cooney followed an extremely focused training regime and a detail-oriented daily nutrition plan, and he spent countless hours swimming. This included daily swimming sessions starting at 5 AM before heading to work, as well as afternoon swims and weekend workouts.

“As an engineer, I like to create designs or plans, optimize them and focus on continuous improvement. I took a similar approach, with a tremendous amount of support, to ensure that I was considering all aspects of the swim,” said Cooney. “From the physical and mental to the nutritional side of what I was doing, I stuck to a rigid plan for nine months, with some minor changes.”

Over the course of those months leading up to the swim, he completed more than 720 miles of training. Starting on Memorial Day of this year, Cooney began training in open water in a variety of lakes throughout Pennsylvania and New York. The sessions varied in distance, capping at 20 miles of swimming in one day.  “I didn’t experience the change in conditions in training to the same degree and duration that I did in the Lake Erie crossing. The current around the midpoint of the swim that lasted three to four hours and high winds causing three-foot waves perpendicular to the intended course within the last five miles made it especially challenging on the mental side to stay focused and determined to reach my end goal.”

Cooney wanted to show his three children what they are capable of in life with a great work ethic, a passion to commit and relentless dedication toward achieving any goal. However, the main reason he swam Lake Erie was for his father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 11 years ago. 

Knowing first-hand the struggles that a Parkinson’s patient, as well as family members, encounter on a daily basis, Cooney's training and Lake Erie Swim were dedicated to all of those in the region who are living with these challenges. All proceeds from his fundraising efforts, which totaled more than $15,000, went directly to Parkinson Partners of Northwestern Pennsylvania, whose mission is to provide help and hope to the local Parkinson’s disease community.

“Now I am really looking forward to getting back to spending more time with my family who was—and still is—a huge support system,” said Cooney.