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Up next for global swimmer: Pittsburgh

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Darren Miller has conquered the waters in New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii and France, but on Saturday, the marathon swimmer from Delmont will stay closer to home.

Miller, 30, will trade the usual choppy currents, jellyfish and ocean vessels for Pittsburgh's three rivers, a training mission before he travels later this month to the North Channel in Northern Ireland.

If he successfully swims the channel, he'll be the first American man to complete the “Ocean's Seven” challenge, a feat of seven difficult open-water swims.

Until then, he'll prepare with a 24-mile swim in the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, spending about three hours in each. Kayakers will flank him during the swim to check for debris.

Miller will begin at 8 a.m. from the North Shore launch ramp near the main entrance of Heinz Field and will finish there around 5 p.m., based upon his plans to swim at about 2.5 mph.

“If the water is 80 degrees, I'm not going to be able to speed along, just simply because of how hot it is,” he said.

Miller is accustomed to swimming in oceans and lakes.

Until now, his only experience taking a dip in Pittsburgh's rivers has been for the wintry Polar Bear Plunge.

“I've never actually trained in the rivers before,” Miller said. “It's a different environment. ... There's not a whole lot of flow rate in the rivers.”

Miller hopes this swim could launch open-water swimming in Pittsburgh.

“I've always thought we have these three beautiful rivers,” he said. “I think what this city needs is to raise awareness of the sport of open-water marathon swimming. This is a niche sport.”

He dreams that next year, the city could host an open-water marathon attracting swimmers from across the globe.

A similar swim in North Dakota drew an athlete from Mumbai, Miller said, noting that there are few such races in the United States.

“It's just my way of saying I love this sport, I want to bring it to Pittsburgh. I know we could find some great sponsors,” he said. “It would be a great international event that I think the city of Pittsburgh could really rally around.”

Miller's Pittsburgh swim mimics the length and time it will take to complete the North Channel.

However, the Ireland swim is risky with its brutally cold water — lower than 55 degrees — and its population of jellyfish.

“I saved this one for last for a reason,” Miller said. “It's a significant challenge. This one is above and beyond any of the other six as far as difficulty simply because of the water.”

Miller undertakes the marathon swimming challenges for charity. Trustmont Financial Group sponsors Miller's swims, along with several “sub-sponsors.”

Every penny donated benefits the Forever Fund, which helps families pay for costs associated with infant cardiothoracic surgery at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The fund covers costs such as travel and lodging.

So far, Miller has raised about $65,000.

“Whatever we can raise, that's what I'm doing this for; to ease their financial burden,” Miller said. “The last thing I want them to worry about is their money.”

The Pittsburgh swim provides an opportunity for the community to see Miller in action, considering most of his marathons are not local. After the swim, he'll host a meet-and-greet at the finish line.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or

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