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The Green Life: Trendsetter: Swimmer Christopher Swain

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February 27, 2009

Trendsetter: Swimmer Christopher Swain

Christopher Swain, the first person to swim the length of the Columbia River (more than 1,200 miles), is a passionate guy. And not just about his sport, but about rivers and oceans too, and about teaching people why it's important to keep them clean. In April, Swain, who has also swum the Hudson and Charles Rivers (315 and 80 miles, respectively), will attempt to swim more than 1,000 miles from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to Washington, D.C.

Q: How do your swims raise awareness of clean-water issues?

A: If you're in the business of conservation, you've got a responsibility to get outside. You're not doing your job if you don't. It's not about e-mail blasts. It's about what you can go out there and experience and come back and testify to. If you look at the people who've really done anything--John Muir, David Brower, Rachel Carson--you can feel it in their writing. Your credibility is going to come from your experience.

Q: Do you worry that the water's toxicity will affect you?

A: Yeah, so I manage my risk. I hardly eat seafood to avoid accumulating mercury. I go to a clinic to test for PCBs, I wear goggles and earplugs, I gargle hydrogen peroxide, I don't swim near pipes, and I'm judicious about not swimming within three days of rain to avoid runoff. I've gotten rashes and had my lymph nodes swell up to golf-ball size from swimming through sewage.

Q: How are you preparing for your swim from Massachusetts to D.C.?

A: I train six days a week for one to four hours a day. I do ocean swimming and biking. I lift a ton of weight to build muscle to protect my joints. I want to know that I've trained so hard that I'm not going to think there's anything I could have done to be better prepared. If you go in with an uncertain heart, you're gonna pay. I have kids, so I don't wanna pay.

Q: Describe your education efforts.

A: I do school visits with slide shows and videos. My dastardly plan is to get 250,000 kids bugging their parents to protect the water. I haven't written off adults, but time spent educating kids is so leveraged that it's worth more.

Q: How can adventure enthusiasts take on a sport for a cause?

A: Pick something you feel connected to and let your heart carry you. Athletics is about heart. It's the organ that dominates our experience.

--Reported by Avital Binshtock

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