Open water swimming does have its share of risk.
While swimming the channel between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, Darren Miller, 29, said he saw something large and dark dart beneath him. Last month, before attempting a swim across the Cook Channel, which separates the North and South islands of New Zealand, he read an Internet account of a man killed off the coast of Auckland, presumably by a great white shark.
While one of the Delmont resident's goals is to become the first American to complete the Ocean's Seven Challenge -- swimming across what is considered to be the world's seven most difficult channels -- he has another motivation behind this formidable challenge.
On his website, www.darren-miller.com, Mr. Miller says he has always been a firm believer that charity should play a role in everyone's life and that helping those who are less fortunate is not an option, but a necessity. As a result, he, along with Cathy Cartieri Mehl and their families, established Team Forever and the Forever Fund in December 2009.
This nonprofit aids families in their struggle to afford the costs associated with infant cardiothoracic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Through his swimming feats, Mr. Miller hopes to inspire people to contribute to the fund.
To date, the Forever Fund -- which helps pay for costs such as travel, food, lodging and prescriptions that are incurred by a family while caring for their child at the hospital -- has netted $60,000 in contributions.
"One hundred percent of all donations go to the Forever Fund, and none of it helps subsidize my channel swims," Mr. Miller said.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Mr. Miller will discuss his adventures -- he has completed six of the Ocean's Seven channel swims -- as well as the motivation behind them. The talk, sponsored by the Westmoreland County Historical Society, will be given in the society's Calvin E. Pollins Library, 362 Sand Hill Road, Suite 1, in Greensburg. Admission is $3 for society members, $5 for nonmembers. For reservations: 724-532-1935, ext. 210.
Mr. Miller has swam across the English Channel, Molokai Strait in Hawaii, Catalina Channel off the coast of California, Strait of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa, Tsugaru Channel between two of Japan's largest islands and, most recently, Cook Channel in New Zealand. Yet to come in July is the most challenging of them all, the Irish Channel between Ireland and Scotland.
"The biggest problem with the Irish Channel is hypothermia in water that's in the 50- to 52-degree range," he said. "Another challenge is stings from the lion's mane jellyfish, the largest known species of jellyfish."
To date, Stephen Redmond of Ireland is the only person to successfully complete all seven channel swims. After completing the Irish Channel swim, Mr. Miller hopes not only to also accomplish that feat but also to become the first person to complete the entire challenge without having to repeat one swim due to an aborted attempt, which is something Mr. Redmond cannot claim.
Mr. Miller was a member of the swim teams at Franklin Regional High School and Penn State University, where he earned a degree in sport and exercise psychology. An avid runner, he injured his foot while training for a running marathon. To keep active while on the mend, he decided to take up open water swimming after reading a book on the subject.
Ms. Cartieri funded his first swim, across the English Channel, in 2010. Later, while speaking to the Greensburg Rotary Club about the swim, one of those attending the talk was the CEO of Trustmont Financial Group, which sponsored all five of his subsequent channel swims.
Mr. Miller currently is training for the Irish Channel swim at the end of July by swimming two to three hours almost every day while working full time for PNC Bank as an investment banker. He said he is motivated to complete the Ocean's Seven Challenge by the friends and family members who have died and the desire to give something back to the community.
"While most people see two boats accompanying me on my swims, I see three," he said. "In the third, are my grandparents, who have been a great inspiration to me along with other departed family members and friends."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published April 11, 2013 8:15 AM