George F Wendt, a champion Masters swimmer, died after suffering a heart attack during the Big Shoulders Swim in Chicago on Saturday. He was 73 years old.
Wendt is a local swimming legend in Chicago and was the president of the Chicago Masters Swim Club.
No details have been formally released, but there were images of Wendt going through the starting gate. Ambulances could be seen driving down the lake shore running trail while the participants were swimming. By the time the 5 kilometer race was finished, the emergency personnel were all gone. Multiple participants have posted on social media that the heart attack occured “during the swim.”
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune in 2012, Wendt at the time had competed in all 22 Big Shoulders races, and twice won.
Wendt set at least one Masters World Record in his career, in the 400 IM in the 65-69 age group in 2012, though that record has since been broken. He also broke 7 US Masters Swimming World Records in his career.
A statement by swim organizers read as follows:
I write this with an incredibly heavy heart. For those who haven’t heard, today we lost George Wendt, a good friend, a role model, a swimming icon, and someone I will miss dearly. George was one of the best people I had the pleasure to call friend. Always positive with a smile, George was the guy who made going to the pool at 5:15 seem like a privilege, rather than a chore. He died doing something he loved, open water swimming. We will have more in the days ahead, but in the meantime, please send any photos you had of George from the race, or from the race in general, to post.
Several other tributes to Wendt poured out on social media over the weekend, and a sunrise vigil was held in his memory at Promontory Point in Chicago on Sunday morning.
The Big Shoulders swim includes a 5 kilometer and 2.5 kilometer race, departing from the Ohio Street Beach on Lake Michigan. In the 5km race, the main event, Tyler Hines won in 1 hour, 8 minutes, 45 seconds. The 2nd-place finisher, and top female finisher, was Danielle Schumacher in a time of 1 hour, 9 minutes, and 11 seconds. Hines is a former swimmer at the University of Wisconsin, while Schumacher is a former collegiate swimmer at Illinois State.
Among the more recognizable names in the field was current Northwestern sophomore Lola Mull, who placed 6th overall. Mull was the 8th place finisher at the 2021 NCAA Championship