CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Dean Hall of Gresham has heard the warnings about how swimming in the Willamette might be hazardous to his health.
As someone battling both leukemia and lymphoma, the 54-year-old took them seriously. But ever since the idea came to him, he has remained determined to swim the entirety of the 184-mile river.
He started last week and said he has been, both literally and figuratively, swimming in miracles ever since.
"Swimming in Miracles" is the title Hall has chosen for his journey, which he figures he'll wrap up around June 23 in Portland.
He started at Alton Baker Park in Eugene and swims approximately 10 miles per day, taking Sundays off to rest.
"It's such a beautiful river. And we see no one on it," he said. "It's one of Oregon's greatest natural resources, and people need to get out and start having fun on it."
Promoting the Willamette is one reason Hall is swimming its length, but it's not the main reason. His first goal is to show cancer patients they can still get out and live their dreams — and to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society while he's at it.
"I'm just an ordinary guy," he said. "If I can swim 184 miles, just about any cancer patient doesn't need to give up their dreams."
Information about Hall's journey and a link to his fundraising goal can be found on his Facebook page.
Hall is a family therapist who grew up in Oregon and moved back after working in Kansas for many years. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, and with lymphoma shortly after a different form of cancer claimed the life of his wife in 2010.
"One of the things I've learned as a therapist and a patient myself, when you get that diagnosis, it's so scary and overwhelming, it's pretty easy to give up your dream and drive," Hall said. "I did, too. I knew better, but I kind of dropped all my dreams and went into survival mode."
Hall had always loved to be active. He'd done triathlons in years past, and had once dreamed of swimming the English Channel. But after his wife's death, with his own illness hitting hard, he felt as if everything had been stripped away.
He remembers thinking: "I just don't feel like the strong, active guy I've always been. I need to find Dean again. I'm going to start swimming."
He didn't get sicker. In fact, he started to feel better, both emotionally and physically.
"Along about (last) November it hit me, this is all fine and good, but it's pretty self-centered and absorbed. It doesn't really match who I believe I am," he said. "My mission and purpose in life is to help others. How can I reclaim myself while still fulfilling my purpose in life?"
"Swimming in Miracles" was born, and at the same time, Hall said, the miracles themselves began.
He spoke to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and found the organization would be in the middle of a fundraiser push right when he was thinking about starting his swim.
He visited with the Willamette Riverkeeper and found support and excitement for his cause. Director Travis Williams told Hall he was the first to make such an attempt and provided him with valuable guide and river condition information.
Eugene residents Lou English and Al Grapel, certified water rescue instructors, helped scout out the areas he planned to swim and worked with his father, Dick Hall of Portland, who is kayaking alongside him to provide support. (The elder Hall also is battling lymphoma.)
Best of all, Hall said, he hasn't been sore, a factor that greatly surprised him and one he calls yet another miracle.
Hall is wearing a wetsuit for his journey and carries an iPhone in a watertight bag inside it, secured to the small of his back, just in case he and his father get separated. He also has a knife strapped to his leg to cut himself free of any test lines or tow ropes that might cross his path.
He was banged up on rocks in the rapids the first day and had a close call with some floating logs, but otherwise hasn't had many complications.
Pollution? He isn't worried. Fifty years ago things were terrible, yes, he said, but these days the Riverkeeper group keeps a close eye on potential contamination. The problems at the Superfund site near Sauvie Island are all in the sediment some 40 feet below, not in the waters he'll be swimming.
He also made it without incident through the area where effluent from the Cascade Pacific and Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper plants at Halsey had been flowing into the Willamette, 15 miles upstream from Corvallis. The dredging Cascade Pacific has been doing to improve the water flow made a huge difference, he said.
On his left wrist, flashing through the water as he swims, Hall wears two rubber bracelets. One carries his motto: "Swimming in Miracles." The other carries the motto of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "Relentless."
Family and friends say that second word fits Hall well, although he quipped he prefers the term, "Strong-minded."
However, he said, he's learning through his swimming that being relentless doesn't mean just putting your head down and soldiering on.
"That's a horrible way to go through life. It may be successful, but it's not very fun," he said.
That's why he doesn't think about the miles he's swum or the miles he has left to go.
"I just concentrate on being in the river, being healthy, watching the bubbles go by."
Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com