Setting Goals: Tips from a World Record Holder

Jon Ornée believes in the pursuit of epic goals. That is underscored by the fact that he has set five athletic world records in the past two years.  

He kicked off the record-setting spree in 2019, when he became the first person to swim across a 7.4-mile stretch of Lake Michigan, from the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to North Manitou Island.  

Jon Ornée
Jon Ornée

The amateur athlete and health coach from Holland then led relay teams swimming across Lake Michigan, cycling across the state from south to north (369 miles) and from west to east (205 miles). Recently, he set a solo record for “Fastest 100 Miles by Bicycle (while drafting)” at the Michigan International Speedway (42.6mph avg). 

The idea for the first record started to take shape in 2018 during a visit to the national park, when he stood on the beach gazing out at the Manitou Islands and wondered what it would take to swim the distance. He did it the next year despite recovering from being struck by an SUV during a bicycle training ride. The crash severely damaged his right arm and required surgery and months of rehab. In the months leading up to the swim, he wondered if his body was ready for the challenge. He completed the swim in 2 hours, 50 minutes.  

“The unique thing about the stuff that I’m drawn to is that most of them are kind of complicated. There’s a physical component. There’s also a lot of strategy and planning that, for whatever reason, I find fun,” Ornée said.  

 Four factors to consider 

Ornée considers four factors that could help others when setting goals: 

Curiosity. Each one of his record-setting goals began with the phrase “I wonder if …” He asked himself, “What would it take to swim across Lake Michigan or cycle across the state?”  

Commitment. Reaching goals requires consistent training and a gradual increase in intensity — and oftentimes mileage. Starting small is OK. A decade ago, after a significant running injury, Ornée started running again by jogging around the block until he built up the endurance to do more.  

Challenge. Find something that fits your interests. Ornée began endurance sports by training and competing in triathlons. He finds he enjoys the challenge and creativity of setting world records.  

Solo vs. team approach. The upside of being part of a team is that it’s more fun and there’s built-in accountability. The key to success is to team up with people who are committed at the same level as you, because you will be frustrated if they don’t show up for training and vice versa.  

Challenging yet achievable 

For Ornée, setting big goals adds an element of fun and excitement to life. But you don’t need to set world records to make challenging yet achievable goals. 

“Regardless of where you’re at, make goals accordingly and slowly increase until you can imagine bigger things,” he said. 

His advice for 2021 is to consider setting goals that aren’t dependent on third parties or outside forces. If there aren’t any 5K or 10K runs or half-marathons in 2021, you can still come up with your own idea and accomplish it — whether it’s tied to an organized event or not. Create your own thing, motivate yourself. 

 Sense of pride 

More important than a medal or a record, you’ll walk away feeling a sense of fulfillment and pride. It also will likely change how you view yourself.  

“You start really feeling like anything’s possible,” Ornée said. “The more you set goals and achieve them, the more you feel like the next bigger goal seems achievable, and that translates into every aspect of life– not just athletically, but personally and professionally.  

“Setting goals and following through on them is a huge step toward being the kind of person you want to be.” 

 Read more about Ornée’s “epic” challenges at 


Photo Credit: Jon Ornée 

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