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Orion's McElwain swims 32 miles

Cassie McElwain, 14, and father Randy enjoy the water. Randy swam across Lake Erie to raise awareness of Alopecia Areata. Photo submitted (click for larger version)
September 14, 2011 - By Megan Bildner

Review Intern

After 16 hours and 26 minutes, Orion Township resident Randy McElwain finished swimming 32 miles across Lake Erie last month.

It is a feat that has only been completed three times in documented history.

McElwain, 47, swam to raise funding and awareness for the skin disease Alopecia Areata. He left the dock in Long Point, Ontario, at 7:19 a.m. and arrived on shore at Dobbins Landing in Erie, Pa. at 11:43 p.m.

Cassie McElwain, 14, is Randy's daughter who has the autoimmune disease. It is not life threatening, but the disease causes her hair to fall out.

"She's had no hair for six years now," mother Laurie McElwain explained. "A little bit is starting to come back now, but may not be permanent. Raising funds for NAAF (National Alopecia Areata Foundation) is critical right now, because scientists have come up with a new treatment that they're looking to get into clinical trials."

McElwain recognized he had missed an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for Alopecia Areata during a 24.3 mile speed record swim from Long Point to northeast, Pa., in 2009. Afterwards, McElwain said he didn't want to do the same swim again.

Three people in history had swum to Presque Isle Peninsula, but nobody had ever swam around the Peninsula, thru the Erie Channel and into the bay arriving in downtown Erie, at the foot of the city pier (an additional 3 miles).

With the support of his family and three kayakers, a pace swimmer, recorder, nutrient stager and boat captain, McElwain used his 3,500 miles and 489 hours of training to complete the longer swim more than two hours faster than those having swam the shorter route.

"Once I started the swim there was never a question in my mind of my making it," he said. "In fact, at the beginning of the third hour I stated to one of my kayakers, Cathy Schreckengost (a suffer of Alopecia), we have this – we're going to make history today! "

McElwain has raised more than $9,000 in the past 18 months for Alopecia Areata and plans on escalating awareness about the skin disease when he competes in the Mont Tremblant Ironman competition in Ontario next June.

Vicki Kalabokes, president and CEO of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, said McElwain's actions have brought a new awareness of the disease. She praised McElwain's devotion to his family and how it brings hope to those who had none before.

"Randy's extraordinary swim exhibits his commitment to his daughter and all those with Alopecia Areata to better understand this disease," Kalabokes said. "He lifted our spirits and gave encouragement to all those affected by Alopecia Areata."

For more information on the disease or donating to McElwain's cause, visit to

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