Sandy’s big swim

Eighty-eight-year-old woman swam across lake to raise money for bible camp


Sandy Abeler, of Coon Rapids, was all smiles as she approached the shore of Cedar Lake near Burtrum and Upsala. Abeler made the swim as a fundraiser to help kids and families attend Camp Lebanon. Photo by Erika Abeler


The summer of 2015 has come and gone, and like most of us, Sandy Abeler has a few great memories on Minnesota lakes.

But for Sandy, there is one lake and one memory that have more meaning than all others. The date was July 4, and the lake was Cedar Lake, located near Burtrum and Upsala.

On this day, at the age of 88, Sandy swam from one side of Cedar Lake all the way to the other. She was accompanied by a flotilla, including three pontoons, three kayaks, a pedal boat and a paddle board. She also was escorted by 16 swimmers, including three children, three grandchildren and two grandnieces.

The swim was not only for great exercise, Sandy’s swim raised $7,200 to help pay for kids and families to come to Camp Lebanon bible camp.

The event was called Cedar Lake Splash IV… yes, this is the fourth year in a row she has completed the swim. And each time, she has raised more money than the previous year.

“The first year, I wrote some letters and told people what I was doing. My goal was $1,000, and we got about $2,000,” she said. “The next year I got more gutsy, and I sent more letters, and my goal was $3,000. We made $4,000. Last year we brought in $5,000,” she said. “And this year, we raised $7,260.”

The money raised from the swim goes directly toward bringing more kids to the camp.

“For every $100 raised, we can send one man, woman or child to the camp,” she said.

Sandy and her husband, Jim (age 91), live six months in Coon Rapids, Minn., and six months in Florida each year.

“We have a little pool at our house in Florida, and I swim as often as I can, about 30 minutes at a time,” she said.

The biggest differences between her pool and Cedar Lake? One is the size and two is the temperature.

“The lake is much, much colder,” she said. “When I got in the water this year I was thinking to myself, ‘Please no leg cramps.’”

She didn’t have any leg cramps on July 4. In fact, when she gets in the water, the pain tends to go away.

“I have a bad hip, and I had a knee replacement, so I can’t go real good on land, but I am still able to swim,” said Sandy. “I am pretty much pain free in the water. I alternate between sidestroke, backstroke and modified breaststroke to make it across.”

When Sandy reached the other shore of Cedar Lake, she was timed at 29 minutes. That’s three minutes faster than her 2014 time.


Sandy Abeler at the end of the swim, joined by some friends and family who swam along with her from one side of Cedar Lake to the other. Contributed photo


“Thank you, Jesus,” she yelled as she made her way out of the water. Everyone cheered.

Sandy has been coming to Camp Lebanon for nearly 50 years. She first discovered the camp back in 1966 when she transported a carload of girls from Anoka to the camp. Sandy asked about family camp dates and times and then started bringing her family to family camp each year after. This was the start of the love affair with Camp Lebanon.

One of Sandy’s sons, Bill, went from youth camper to camp director over a couple decades time. He has been the executive director of Camp Lebanon since 1986. The idea of swimming across the lake as a fundraiser was born after a conversations between she and Bill.

“He was visiting us in Florida, and I was swimming in the pool. He was talking about the camp and how they never turned anyone away because of money,” she said. “I told him, ‘If there is anything I could do to help, let me know,’ and then in jest, I said ‘I would swim across the lake if you wanted me to.’”

The idea was born.

“It’s all about getting kids to camp so they can hear about the love of Jesus,” she said.

Sandy is already looking forward to next year’s swim on Cedar Lake.

“I am alive and able so I will continue to do it. It feels great to make a difference. It is wonderful having a purpose,” she said. “It is exciting and wonderful to help people learn about Jesus. There are lives changed at this camp, and it is wonderful to be a part of it.”

#88yearoldswimmer #CampLebanonBibleCamp

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