Their military careers are over, but they’re still on a mission.
Mooresville residents Mike Barber and Shannon Rusch will be part of a team of a half-dozen former Navy SEALs who plan to make a 12.4-mile swim across Lake Norman on July 24 to raise money for a national program aimed at preventing suicide among veterans.
Community members who have contributed $500 also will have a chance to take part in a 1.2-mile swim as part of the Lake Norman SEAL Swim. The community swim will begin 11 a.m. at the Blue Parrot Grill in Mooresville and end at the McCrary Creek Access Area on N.C. 150 in Mooresville.
After a lunch celebration for the community, swimmers and a patriotic send-off, the SEALs will enter the water at McCrary Creek at 1 p.m. and swim together to the Rusty Rudder in Cornelius, guided by an escort of public safety vessels.
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The third annual event is a fundraiser for Operation Restored Warrior, a Colorado-based organization that offers five-day, on-site counseling and support sessions for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and combat related stress. According to Operation Restored Warrior, an average of 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide each day.
“I was blown away that I did not know about this,” said Rusch, who started the Lake Norman event in 2013 after learning about the numbers of veterans taking their own lives.
Rusch said his next goal is to encourage other retired SEALs to hold their own swim fundraisers across the country for Operation Restored Warrior.
Event organizer Chris Durant, a Cornelius real estate broker and former civilian military and law enforcement instructor, has been involved in all three Lake Norman SEAL Swims.
“As my role with the swim has grown, so has my involvement not just with the event, but also with those it touches,” Durant said. “When you see the successes and the ultimate salvation of these brave warriors and often their families as well, it is truly humbling.”
While a primary goal of the swim is to raise awareness of veteran suicide, Durant added, some of the event’s most-meaningful moments often take place away from the public eye.
“The event itself actually starts the night before (the swim),” he said. “A group of us, including our core team, alumni of Operation Restored Warrior, family and other veterans we may be reaching out to, all get together at one of the guys’ homes for a cookout. It’s a time for us to reflect not just on what we’ve done or the day ahead of us, but also on those warriors we’re actually doing this for. It’s a fun time, but it’s also very somber and, to a degree, spiritual for all of us.”
That experience continues during the swim, as those who have been through the program spend time on escort boats with those struggling with PTSD and combat related stress.
“It will take about five-and-a-half to six hours for the final leg of the swim,” Durant said, “so these veterans have an opportunity to talk and open up with others who have been in their boots and who have fought their fight – and won.”
The day will end with a public celebration at Rusty Rudder, including live music, live and silent auctions of donated items, and a chance to meet the participants.
John Deem is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information, go to lknsealswim.org, or contact Durant at 704- 975-5301 or email@example.com.