Swim for Service

U.S. Navy veteran Chris Ring traverses the length of the Mississippi River

The longest journey started with a single stroke.

Over the course of six months, 28-year-old Chris Ring, a Tennessee native and Navy combat veteran, swam the length of the Mississippi —2,350 miles — becoming the first American to successfully complete the daunting feat.

Ring’s source of inspiration hit close to home.

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The former soldier partnered with the non-profit Legacies Alive, challenging himself to swim the river to raise awareness and charity for Gold Star families — families who’ve had a child or parent die during active duty. The mission of Legacies Alive, which was founded by combat veterans, is to provide support to the families of the fallen by adhering to its core values of “family, service, commitment,” thus ensuring the legacies of fallen heroes live forever.

“No gold star family wants to be a gold star family, so people should know and respect and really appreciate the sacrifice that was paid,” Ring told CBS News. “Really the goal was that you could walk up to anybody in the street and ask what a gold [star] family is, and they’re going to know what it is.”

During the grueling challenge, Ring personally met more than 200 Gold Star families, many of them coming to banks of the Mississippi to greet him. Starting in northern Minnesota, Ring covered about 15 miles daily, closely monitored the entire trip by a support kayak. By the end of the trip, the kayak was covered in Sharpie-drawn names — the names of fallen soldiers scribbled by the families Ring encountered as he traveled south.  

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“The toughest part of the swim is honestly the mental aspect,” Ring told SpinTV. “It’s a much more mental and emotional endeavor than anything else. I’m in the water for maybe nine hours, but then I get out and meet with these families who have lost everything, and I have to be sharp. I can’t be tired and grumpy. It’s hard because it’s an emotional rollercoaster, when I’m sitting with the families and seeing the tears and seeing how much they are hurting.

“The best part of the trip has been meeting all the families for the first time, and having them come up and hug me and tell me a story about the loved ones they’ve lost.” Ring continued. “Ultimately the stories are what they cherish the most. They’re afraid people will forget their stories.”

Ring was inspired to take on this Herculean task after reading about Army veteran Mike Viti’s cross-country hike last year. Viti traveled the entire border of the United States — more than 6,843 kilometers — to honor the 6,843 military personnel who died in Afghanistan and Iraq during the War on Terror.

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Ring, who never swam competitively, trained for four months before entering the Mississippi, working out for close to 10 hours in the pool on the most intense days. The 157-day pilgrimage began in June. In late November, Ring swam through the Port of South Louisiana and a few days later on Dec. 4, concluded the journey at the last mile marker of the river, which is located south of Venice.

“Doing this challenge was very humbling,” Ring said to CBS. “I feel lucky and privileged to be able to take it on and just meet these awesome families, just to hear the story of their loved ones … and to just raise awareness for who they were as a person has been amazing … and it’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.”

By William Kalec



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