ST. FRANCISVILLE — Chris Ring wanted to do something special to honor fallen soldiers and to support the families they left behind.
So he decided to take a Swim for Their Sacrifice.
On D-Day, June 6, Ring, a former Navy combat veteran who served for 10 years, began his journey in Lake Itasca in Minnesota, and it will end some time in early December at mile marker zero, south of Venice at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.
When he steps out of the water a final time, Rice will have swum the entire length of the Mississippi River — 2,552 miles.
“It’s not about swimming the river; it’s about connecting with the families,” said Ring, who estimates he’s met more than 200 families of fallen soldiers along the way. They are known as Gold Star families.
Ring and his crew, which includes his father, Tim, in a small motorboat, and friends Seth Mortenson, in a kayak, and Rob Brigance, providing land-based logistical support, stopped briefly in St. Francisville on Monday.
Ring told his story to a small group at St. Francisville Town Hall, and he was presented proclamations by Mayor Billy D’Aquilla and Sherrill Johnson, representing West Feliciana Parish. Executive Director Lauren Field, of the St. Francisville Area Foundation, arranged for the crew to stay overnight at The Myrtles and presented members with gift baskets from Louisiana Gift Basket.
Ring and his crew are volunteers. He said nearly 99 percent of the money they raise through donations will support the Gold Star families.
Ring has four goals.
“First is to honor our fallen heroes with an extreme challenge,” Ring said. “These families paid the ultimate sacrifice so other families don’t have to.
“Second, to build monuments and memorials to the fallen heroes, like a bronze statue we’re building to honor baseball prospect Chris Moon, who was killed in Afghanistan, at his high school baseball field in Arizona.
“Third, to help support Gold Star events and to help provide these families with opportunities so they can talk to each other.
“Fourth, to work with other like-minded organizations that support the Gold Star families,” Ring said.
And most of all, it’s about the families for Ring.
“It’s a way for them to share who their loved ones were as a person,” Ring said. “Families love talking about their loved ones because it keeps them alive.”
He said the families have signed the support kayaks and when the swim gets tough, he looks at their messages and it keeps him going.
“They are my motivation,” Ring said. “They have to live with their loss for the rest of their lives.”
The Mississippi presents a number of challenges and obstacles, mainly because he has to navigate tidal pools and shifting currents and share the water with everything from large ships and barges to grass carp who occasionally bump into him. He swims with fins and goggles and wears a wet suit. He averages from 14 to 24 miles a day and stays in the water usually five to six hours every day, except Sundays.
“I know I’m doing the right thing when I meet the family members and when I come out of the water and they meet me and hug me, no matter how gross I am, with tears in their eyes,” Ring said.
So in early December, Ring will join distance swimmer Martin Strel, of Slovenia, as the only people to accomplish the incredible feat, he said. And for the families he’s met along the way, it’s his way to keep alive the memories of their loved ones and to help them heal.
For information about Ring’s quest, visit legaciesalive.com or like his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter, @LegaciesAlive.