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?”