Delmont swimmer completes the Oceans Seven Challenge

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Darren Miller, an investment banker at PNC Bank in Murrysville, is also a student at Chatham University in its sport and exercise psychology masters program.

"I want to learn more about the power of mind over body, or how I am able to do what I do," the Delmont man explained.

What Mr. Miller just did was become the first American to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge, a series of endurance swims across seven of the world's toughest channels. He is one of only four in history to complete the challenge and is the first to complete each of the seven marathon swims on his first attempt.

On Aug. 29, Mr. Miller, 30, completed the last of the seven channel swims -- the 21-mile long North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, and did so in 11 hours and 16 minutes.

The other six channels, his times and dates were:

• English Channel, between England and France -- 12 hours, 4 minutes in July 2010;

• Catalina Channel, between Catalina Island and mainland California -- 9 hours, 15 minutes, August 2011;

• Molokai Channel, between islands of Oahu and Molokai in Hawaii -- 12 hours, 12 minutes in October 2011;

• Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco -- 3 hours, 44 minutes in May 2012;

• Tsugaru Channel, between islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan -- 15 hours, 55 minutes in July 2012;

• Cook Strait, between north and south islands in New Zealand -- 10 hours, 42 minutes in March 2013.

His drive in each endeavor was to raise money for the nonprofit Forever Fund he co-founded to assist families with the costs associated with infant cardiothoracic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

During the swims, Mr. Miller, in Speedo, cap, and goggles, never left the water.

He was followed at all times by a boat with a one- or two-person crew and an official observer.

In his North Channel swim, the boat carried an Irish Long Distance Swimming Association observer, his brother, Matthew, and father, Frederick.

Family members' main role was to feed the swimmer through a bottle attached to a rope and tossed into the water.

Darren Miller's 15-second breaks every 30 minutes consisted of ingesting 12 ounces of heated carbohydrate liquid.

He ate high-carbohydrate gels and, intermittently, a banana or peanut butter and jelly sandwich pieces.

"I tried to take in 1,000-1,500 calories per hour to counteract the body, which is burning about 1,500 calories per hour," he said.

Mr. Miller said the biggest challenge was acclimating to ocean temperatures of 55 degrees compared to the 78 degrees in the Pittsburgh rivers in which he trained. He also endured numerous painful stings from lion's mane jellyfish up to 2 feet in length.

Mr. Miller, a lifelong swimmer, was a member of the swim teams at Franklin Regional High School and Pennsylvania State University. He also was a marathon runner and, after breaking a bone in his foot, returned to the water to stay in shape.

It was shortly thereafter, while reading "Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer" that he decided to try to swim the English Channel in honor of a friend, Anthony Frank Cartieri, who died of heart disease.

Mr. Miller and Cathy Cartieri Mehl established the Forever Fund in her father's memory in 2009.

His next aquatic goal is to stage a "Three Rivers Marathon Swim" to draw open-water swimmers from around the world to Pittsburgh. While the marathon would likely be nine to 12 hours long, he has yet to work out the details.

He said proceeds would benefit the Forever Fund.

Mr. Miller, who also does motivational speaking, said the most compelling aspect of his Oceans Seven achievement is that it was done by an average person working full time, going to school, staying fit and training four hours a day.

Details: Donations can be sent to Team Forever, P.O. Box 205, Murrysville 15668.

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Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: First Published September 19, 2013 9:15 AM


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