Delmont's Miller to tackle sixth of seven marathon swimming challenges

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Darren Miller always thought there were few things as terrifying as spending eight to 12 hours in the dark abyss of the ocean.

Try adding sharks into the mix.

That's what Miller will face later this month when he tries to swim the 18 miles of the Cook Strait between the north and south islands of New Zealand.

“There's a primal fear there — I can't think of anything more terrifying,” Miller said. “But the biggest challenge is the thought of what's swimming below you.”

Marathon swimmer Miller, 29, of Delmont, will attempt his sixth swim of the Ocean's Seven challenge on March 20 by swimming through the waters off the coast of New Zealand. He is striving to be the first American to complete the intensive, marathon swim challenge and the first person in the world to complete the challenge without repeating a swim.

A senior relationship manager at PNC Bank in Murrysville, Miller has been crossing off the seven waterways of the challenge since July 2010. If he completes Cook Strait, Miller will be left with the North Channel in Ireland, which is considered to be the hardest of the seven swims.

Miller will be swimming the strait with friend Craig Lenning of Colorado. The pair will have two boats accompanying them on the 16-nautical-mile trek — an inflatable zodiac boat keeping pace with them and a second boat acting as a second set of eyes.

Those eyes will be looking for great white sharks, which are indigenous to the waterway. It's Miller's third time swimming in shark-filleded waters – the Catalina Channel in August 2011 and the Molokai Channel in October 2011 both were home to sharks.

But this time, Miller will be allowed to leave the water if a shark is spotted. That's a likely possibility, considering one of six swimmers encounter sharks while crossing the strait, according to the website for Cook Strait Swim, a team that helps coordinate swims of the channel.

The website states that no one has been attacked by a shark while trying to complete the swim.

Miller also will have to adjust to a temperature difference. Cooks Strait is among several cold water swims in the challenge. He expects the water temperature to be around 60 degrees. To prepare, he spent 12 hours in a pool on Sunday reflecting on what he's been through in the past three years.

“There are no comfy wetsuits,” Miller said. “You can't get out of the water; you can't touch anything. It's you and the water, 100 percent of the time.”

But it's all been worth it, he said. Thanks to a full sponsorship from Greensburg-based Trustmont Group, all of the money raised from Miller's swim goes to the Forever Fund, a nonprofit group that helps families struggling to afford the cost of infant cardiothoracic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. He has raised about $60,000 for the cause through the swims, he said.

Miller first got involved in extreme marathon swimming after an injury stopped him from his devotion to marathon running. After graduating from Penn State University in 2005, the Franklin Regional graduate was 260 pounds, out of shape and wanted to do something different than heavy weight lifting. He ran a marathon, which sparked a love for running. After hearing about open water swimming, he and friend Cathy Cartieri Mehl orchestrated the Forever Fund, a way for Miller to give back while enjoying an extreme sport.

“I've been given a gift, and I want to promote myself to inspire others to go out and do something different,” Miller said. “When you tell someone you're swimming in the middle of the night with sharks, they tend to listen to you.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or

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