Hero of the Columbia

As July 4 nears, memories of the sacrifices of UNLIKELY HEROES come to mind—people like Christopher Swain. At 11:30 a.m. on June 4, Swain waded into the headwaters of the Columbia River near Canal Flats, British Columbia. Over the next four to six months, he hopes to SWIM THE ENTIRE LENGTH of this river, emerging after 1,243 miles at Astoria, Oregon, and the Pacific Ocean. Why? The 34-year-old Portlander wants to focus public attention on the Columbia, the fourth-largest river in North America. Dammed to create energy and provide irrigation, then subjected to decades of industrial pollution and radioactive waste, it now ranks as the 18TH MOST TOXIC waterway in the United States.

With a background in sailing, rowing, bicycle racing, and triathlons, Swain pioneered "advocacy swimming" in 1996 by completing a 17-day, 210-mile trek down the Connecticut River to benefit the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From this experience, he developed a routine for the Columbia: three successive days in the water, breaking every 15 minutes for food (he tries to INGEST 8,000 CALORIES during his eight-hour swimming sessions). He stays dry on the fourth day, discussing the river's plight with anyone who will listen. These talks also aim to raise money: Swain needs $70,000 in support—he had secured less than one-third of that amount when he began his trip.

Asked to describe the strangest thing that's happened to him so far on this epic adventure, Swain, speaking by phone from British Columbia, recalled the group of 100 Canadian children who "TOASTED" HIS DEPARTURE by drinking pristine water dipped straight from Columbia Lake. "Where these kids live is the last place on the route that you would even think about doing this," he said. "Drinking that water really put into perspective what I'm hoping to accomplish." Indeed, less than 100 miles downstream from the purity of these headwaters, Swain must rinse his mouth with hydrogen peroxide twice a day to prevent infection from the sewage that pollutes the river. Other early hardships he has faced include raging rapids, frigid temperatures, massive sunburn, aching muscles, and intense hunger.

As the weeks turn to months, the Columbia will put his physical and mental endurance to THE ULTIMATE TEST. Swain relishes this challenge and believes that his trek will help ignite a groundswell of support for the river.

Read updates at www.columbiaswim.org.


Break out your lavender singlet (or jockstrap) and celebrate the season with the 19th annual "Run With Pride" on Saturday, June 29. Organized by the local gay and lesbian run and walk club known as Seattle Frontrunners, this year's festivities include a 4K run, a 10K run, and a 4K noncompetitive walk. All events begin at 9 a.m. at Seward Park, 5898 Lake Washington Blvd S. See www.seattlefrontrunners.org for more information.


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