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Commentaries and editorials

Oregon Man Swims 1,200 Miles
to Protect the Columbia River

by Lee Douglas, Reuters
Environmental News Network, July 2, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. -- An Oregon man ended a 1,243-mile (2,000-km) swim Tuesday after spending 13 months in the icy waters of the Columbia River, braving toxins and bacteria, to raise awareness about its pollution.

Christopher Swain, 35, a lifelong lover of water sports, began the journey in Canada more than a year ago. Putting aside family life and plans for a career in acupuncture, Swain lived on donations and revenue from T-shirt sales during his effort to clean up the river.

The Columbia is plagued by toxic wastes, rising temperatures, rampant bacteria, and the dwindling survival rate of its salmon.

"Really what the river has become is a reflection of who we are and the choices we've made here in the Northwest," said Swain.

"The river needed a champion, and I didn't realize it at first, but this is kind of what I've gotten myself into," said Swain, who would leave the river almost daily to rest and visit his family but return to pick up his journey at the same stop.

The Columbia River which ranks near the top of U.S. rivers measured by volume of water flow was described in 1805 by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as a pristine blue river teeming with salmon.

Swain dove into Columbia Lake in Canal Flats, British Columbia, June 4, 2002. Since then he has averaged 10 miles (16 kms) per leg in temperatures as low as 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3.33 degrees Celsius). Sometimes battling eight-foot waves and winds at 50 mph (80 kph), Swain swam through pesticide runoff, sewage overflow, and contaminants at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to reach the Pacific.

His journey has been an all-American one, filled with talks at schools, overnight stays on farms, and whole communities waving on the shore line. In British Columbia, he was saluted by the horns of trucks and passing trains.

Swain received the International Earth Day Award earlier this year for the swims. He battled six ear infections, three bouts of shoulder inflammation, two episodes of swollen lymph nodes, colds, sunburn, and chafed skin.


Lee Douglas, Reuters
Oregon Man Swims 1,200 Miles to Protect the Columbia River
Environmental News Network, July 2, 2003

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