GV alumni paddle across Lake Michigan

Courtesy / Hanson Photography

Courtesy / Hanson Photography

Amy McNeel

Last month, two Grand Valley State University alumni exemplified what it truly means to be a Laker for a Lifetime.  

In the early hours of Thursday, Aug. 9, Eric Strickler, 2008 graduate, and Daniel Bonner, 2009 graduate, set off on a 79-mile paddle boarding journey. The two Lakers started in Wisconsin and paddled all the way across Lake Michigan. 

“We paddled from Milwaukee over to Muskegon, and we were paddling for about 22 hours,” Strickler said. “It was 73 miles total that we paddled; 79 miles is the crossing distance. We stopped six miles out because there were pretty trying conditions.”

The journey ended around 2:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 10. The goal of the trip was to raise awareness and funds for the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership, an organization focused on the restoration of Muskegon Lake and the Great Lakes. 

“I was a natural resources management graduate, and [Bonner] was a natural resources management minor,” Strickler said. “So I think we both, over the almost ten years since we graduated, wanted to contribute to the health of the Great Lakes in whatever way we could, and this was one way we felt we could do that.” 

The Michigan natives were excited to support a local organization and the West Michigan environment. 

“We wanted to support the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership both for the work they do on and around Muskegon Lake, but also because it directly influences Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes Watershed,” Bonner said. “I grew up in Muskegon, and live and work here now, so it was something close to home that we could support.”

From their journey, Strickler and Bonner raised over $7,700 for the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership; money that will benefit the organization and the environment. 

“They seemed like a great organization that represented our local community and their investment to the awesome water resources here in Muskegon, and that’s why we picked them as opposed to another, larger regional advocacy organization or national organization,” Strickler said. “We figured with our money we would make a bigger impact because their budgets are smaller and it would be within our local community.”

From their journey, Strickler and Bonner not only raised funds, but also gained insight and new perspectives about the bodies of water here in West Michigan. 

“The biggest take away was how vast and beautiful Lake Michigan truly is,” Bonner said. “I’ve grown up on the lake, but once I was in the middle of it, supported only by my board, I felt so small. We need to protect this resource both for its beauty and the financial aspect that it allows the state of Michigan.” 

Strickler added that the actual act of paddling across Lake Michigan was not the journey as a whole; instead, it was just the final result. Before the trip, the duo spent hours focused on training, planning and relationship building. He said that no matter what you are planning to do or what you are passionate about, there is never a clear cut path to get there. 

“Follow your passion but enjoy the journey, because if we weren’t satisfied with what we were doing or weren’t enjoying it until we paddling across the lake, we would have missed out on a great opportunity,” Strickler said. “We met tons of just rad people all summer long, had a great time training with each other and bringing our friends out paddling.” 

Together, these Lakers used their passions to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, while also raising money for a cause.