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Swim champion George F. Wendt, cousin to ‘Cheers’ actor, dies in Lake Michigan race

“George Wendt held many individual lifetime records and was a tireless proponent of the sport,” FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park said on their Facebook page.

“George Wendt held many individual lifetime records and was a tireless proponent of the sport,” FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park said on their Facebook page.

Screen grab from FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park’s Facebook page.

George F. Wendt, a champion swimmer and president of the Chicago Masters Swim Club, died during the Big Shoulders Open Water Classic in Lake Michigan, numerous media outlets including the Chicago Sun Times reported.

Wendt, 73, was discovered “unresponsive after swimming in the water” around 9 a.m. Saturday, the Chicago Police Department said according to Wednesday Journal, which also said his death was ruled an accidental drowning by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Wendt is a cousin of “Cheers” actor George Wendt Jr..

Tributes started pouring in for the swimming icon all over social media after swim organizers confirmed his passing in a statement, Swim Swam reported:

“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.”

Wendt was a champion swimmer at Fenwick High School and the University of Minnesota and also participated in the U.S. Olympic swim trails at age 16, the Sun Times reported. He participated in all of Big Shoulders’ races, which have been held annually since 1991.

Big Shoulders also released a moving statement regarding his death on their website.

“The morning of Big Shoulders XXX began with a beautiful sunrise, calm, warm (70F) water, and clear skies As swimmers amassed on the beach, the excitement for our return to Lake Michigan as an organized event after 2 years was palpable. The race began like so many other years, with the UIC Men’s and Women’s swimmers cheering us on as we charged into the lake to start our waves.

Our good friend, George Wendt, entered the water as he has for every Big Shoulders, and by all accounts was excited for a good race. What none of us knew was that this would be his last Big Shoulders.”

A celebration of life is planned for Oct. 3 — which is Wendt’s birthday — at Promontory Point, Big Shoulders said.

TJ Macías is a Real-Time national sports reporter for McClatchy based out of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Formerly, TJ covered the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers beat for numerous media outlets including 24/7 Sports and Mavs Maven (Sports Illustrated). Twitter: @TayloredSiren

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