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Delmont man nears finish of swim feat

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Darren Miller (right), 29, of Delmont, swam the Cook Strait, his sixth swim of the Ocean’s Seven challenge, in 10 hours and 42 minutes.
Darren Miller, 29, of Delmont, completed the Cook Strait, his sixth swim of the Ocean’s Seven challenge, in 10 hours and 42 minutes.

Darren Miller's body was aching during his 16-nautical-mile swim across the Cook Strait in New Zealand, but his mind would not let him quit.

Even as the temperature dropped and the sun disappeared, he continued swimming until he touched the rock wall to mark the end of his journey across the strait.

In 10 hours and 42 minutes, Miller completed the sixth swim of the Ocean's Seven Challenge on Thursday around 8 p.m. local time. This summer, he hopes to complete the final swim to become the first American to finish the open water challenge.

“I was worried about the cold, especially around halfway across when it dropped a few degrees,” he said, relaxing in New Zealand on Friday. “With any of these challenges, you are always going to have your body telling you to stop once in a while due to the pain. But it is the mental tenacity to continue pushing through the dark times which makes a true champion.”

Miller and his crew waited four days to find the right conditions for the swim. Finally, on March 21, the boat captain plotted out the course for Miller and his friend Craig Lenning of Colorado, who also completed the swim.

“The water was 59 to 61 degrees. I was hoping for slightly warmer,” Miller said. “Hypothermia is the most significant risk in any swim, and that was cold. However, I was able to handle it.”

The choppy water was the other major challenge, which Miller said held up the men for a few hours.

“This kept us pretty stagnant in the water for several hours and made for a tough mental barrier when you are not making any ground and just swimming north instead of west,” he said.

Although the men had been warned about the local shark population, Miller said they spotted only a seal and the occasional jelly fish.

The Cook Strait is the only swim in the challenge that allows participants to get out of the water for 10 minutes if a great white shark is spotted because of the significant population there, he said.

This summer, Miller plans to swim the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland to complete the Ocean's Seven challenge. That swim is considered to be the most difficult, he said.

The Ocean's Seven challenge consists of swimming across seven of the world's most difficult channels: the English, Catalina, Molokai, Gibraltar Strait, Tsugaru and North channels and the Cook Strait. Only a man from Ireland has completed the challenge.

Each completed swim brings donations to the Forever Fund, which helps families pay for costs associated with infant cardiothoracic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Miller's swims have raised more than $60,000 for the nonprofit.

Every penny of the donations goes to the Forever Fund, Miller said. He said Trustmont Financial Group in Greensburg foots the bill for travel costs.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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