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Delmont man's next challenge is to compete in swim in chilly Finland river

| Sunday, March 9, 2014, 11:40 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Darren Miller of Delmont, who became the first American man to complete the Ocean’s Seven Challenge in September, poses for a portrait on Sunday, March 9, 2014, at Keystone State Park in Derry Township. He will compete March 20-23 in the IX Swimming World Championships in Finland.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Darren Miller of Delmont, who became the first American man to complete the Ocean’s Seven Challenge in September, poses for a portrait on Sunday, March 9, 2014, at Keystone State Park in Derry Township. He will compete March 20-23 in the IX Swimming World Championships in Finland.
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Darren Miller of Delmont recently volunteered as a victim during ice rescue training exercises at Keystone Lake in Derry Township. Miller repeatedly slipped into the frozen-over lake through a small triangle and firefighters from Team 175 pulled him out.

Darren Miller has conquered miles-long endurance swims.

The 30-year-old Delmont man has dodged jellyfish in the solitude of the open ocean.

Now he's hoping to tackle something completely different — a short race on a river in the Arctic Circle.

“I've never done anything like this,” Miller said. “It'll be a totally different atmosphere.”

He will depart later this week for a new adventure at the Winter Swimming World Championships in Finland, where he will be among more than 1,000 swimmers from 34 countries vying for titles in 25- and 50-meter freestyle sprints.

Miller became in August the first American man to complete the Ocean's Seven challenge and the first person to finish each of the seven open-water swims on the first try. He successfully navigated the waters and marine life of the North Channel, Cook Strait, Molokai Channel, English Channel, Catalina Channel, Tsugaru Channel and Strait of Gibraltar.

Miller's swims raise money for the Forever Fund, which helps families pay for costs associated with infant cardiothoracic surgery at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. He has raised about $65,000.

The Winter Swimming World Championships are set for March 20-23 on the Kemijoki River near Novaniemi, Finland, which bills itself as “The Official Hometown of Santa Claus.” The high temperature those days is predicted to reach -3 degrees, according to Accuweather.com.

The coldest water Miller encountered during the Ocean's Seven challenge was 52 degrees in the North Channel, he said. Finland's water likely will be much colder.

“You have to embrace that pain, that feeling,” Miller said.

He managed to do that in mid-February at Keystone Lake in Derry Township by volunteering as a victim during ice rescue training exercises. Miller repeatedly slipped into the frozen-over lake through a small triangle and firefighters from Team 175 pulled him out.

Bradenville fire Chief Mark Piantine said Miller walked around barefoot in the snow and on 15 inches of ice.

“It was cold,” Piantine said. “It's a good thing to have an actual victim.”

Miller previously trained regularly at Keystone Lake for Ocean's Seven swims, but this winter's frigid weather hasn't given him the opportunity. Instead, he sits in an ice bath and does sprint work in a warm pool at the Greensburg YMCA.

Miller is looking forward to proving himself as a short-distance sprinter, the events he competed in as a high school swimmer at Franklin Regional. His personal best then was just under 22 seconds for the 50-yard sprint.

“They know me as the long-distance guy, not the sprinter,” he said.

Miller is also a public speaker, something he focused on after completing Ocean's Seven, but he just couldn't stay away from a swimming competition.

“It's a little hard for me to calm down and not do anything,” he said.

According to the swimming championships website, the competition stadium has a spot for spectators and hot pools and saunas for swimmers. Swimsuits are not permitted to have legs or sleeves, and swimmers are required to wear a head covering during the race, the rules state.

After the championships, Miller said he plans to go back to endurance swimming.

“The goal is to find challenges that have not ... been accomplished before,” he said.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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