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  • Open water swimmer
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  • Swims the rivers in Pittsburgh

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Darren Miller, Motivational Speaker, Promo Video

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The temperature was a hair above 40 degrees late in March when Darren Miller, wearing only a Speedo and a smile, plunged into the frigid waters of Keystone Lake in Westmoreland County.

Mr. Miller, 27, of Delmont, swam for only a few minutes, partly because he was posing for news cameras, partly because he'd be endangering his life if he swam for much longer.

"Anything over 20-30 minutes, you can get hypothermia," he said.

During a typical workout when temperatures are warmer, Mr. Miller will swim the one kilometer length of Keystone Lake dozens of times.

"I'll swim for an hour and a half to two hours on weekdays, from six to eight hours on weekends," he said.

Swimming for hours is nothing new to Mr. Miller, who was on the swim teams at Franklin Regional High School and for two years at Penn State University. He swam for 24 hours straight in the pool of the Murrysville Swim Club last June. In July, he'll try to break the world record for the longest swim, 104 kilometers (65 miles). It'll take him 48 to 55 hours, Mr. Miller thinks.

"Monotony is something I'm used to," he said.

Last August, Mr. Miller, a private client group manager for PNC bank, became the 817th person to swim the English Channel between Dover in England and Cap Gris Nez (a headland halfway between Calais and Boulogne) in France. The distance is 21 miles. It took Mr. Miller 12 hours and 4 minutes to swim it.

Preparing for swims like that is why Mr. Miller swims outside in winter weather, takes cold showers every morning, and keeps the temperature in his home at a chilly 58 degrees -- the same temperature as it was when he made his Channel swim.

Hypothermia -- a condition in which the body's core temperature drops below the temperature required for normal metabolism, about 95 degrees -- is the biggest danger open-ocean swimmers face. Prolonged exposure to cold depletes body heat. If the body is unable to replace that heat, hypothermia sets in.

"Everything starts going numb," Mr. Miller told WTAE-TV after his swim in the English Channel. "The biggest thing is the shoulders. You start pulling muscles in your legs. My forearms completely locked up."

For triathletes, the ultimate challenge is the Ironman in Hawaii, a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

For mountain climbers, it's scaling the Seven Summits -- the highest mountains on each continent.

The English Channel has been the Mount Everest of marathon swimming. But now that more than 1,000 people have done it, Steven Munatones, a swim coach and marathon swimmer in Huntingdon Beach, Calif., thought a bigger challenge is needed.

So Mr. Munatones invented the Ocean's Seven. In addition to the English Channel, they are the Catalina crossing between Palos Verdes on the California mainland and Santa Catalina Island; the Cook Strait in New Zealand; the Tsugaru Channel in Japan; the Molokai Channel in Hawaii; the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland; and the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain.

Mr. Munatones chose these additional swims for their geographic and climatic diversity and the extreme hardships they present. Most swimmers think the toughest are the 26-mile Molokai Channel, where the waves get very high, and the North Channel, where the water is very, very cold.

As of 2007, 198 mountain climbers have scaled the Seven Summits. So far, no marathon swimmer has swum all of the Ocean's Seven. Mr. Munatones thinks Darren Miller is one of the eight swimmers in the world most likely to accomplish the task.

He has a long way to go. The English Channel is the only one of the seven Mr. Miller has completed. He plans to swim the Catalina Channel in August and the Molokai Channel in September.

Each will cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Mr. Miller seeks charitable donations to help defray these costs, and to raise money for the Forever Fund, which Mr. Miller and friend Cathy Cartieri Mehl established in 2009 to provide aid to families whose children require infant cardiothoracic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Miller also has corporate sponsors. One is EnergyCare USA, a Pittsburgh-based firm that manufactures a holistic line of sports, health and wellness products. If you buy an EnergyCare product via Mr. Miller's Web site, www.darren-miller.com, EnergyCare will donate 30 percent of the proceeds to the Forever Fund.

Jack Kelly: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.

First published on April 18, 2011 at 12:00 am

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