Darren Miller trains in icy water last February at Keystone State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Darren Miller

Darren Miller did it again. 

On July 10, 2010, he became the 833rd person to successfully swim the English Channel. Then earlier this month, he swam from Catalina Island to the coast of southern California in a little more than nine hours. 

He has five more open water swims in the Ocean’s Seven challenge to cross seven of the most difficult channels in the world, which no one has done. He set that personal goal to raise money to benefit cardiothoracic surgery patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

So far, he’s raised more than $34,000, and the tally from the latest challenge isn’t in yet. 

Miller, 28, lives in Delmont, Pa., and works in banking. He swims daily in cold water, takes cold showers and sets his home thermostat at 58 degrees year-round. He does it to toughen up for the high-profile swims that not only raise money, but also raise awareness of the sick babies and their families.

Spiritual strength

The swimming challenges, he said, put his Catholic faith into action. 

“People are given so much in life, and people who are able to do things should go out and make changes for people who can’t,” he said. 

And now he has a forum for motivating others to set high goals for themselves. 

“When I pushed myself to run 50 miles, cycle 200 miles or swim the English Channel, I knew that I was challenging myself to see what I was made of,” Miller recently told a Catholic youth group. “The harder you push, the more you know about yourself.” 

The physical and mental challenges, he said, help build strength for the spiritual challenge of “staying on the narrow road the Lord is trying to show us.” 

It is through challenges and resulting strength, he added, that people learn how to serve. 

“Your life is not about you,” he said, “but what you can do for others.” 

In December 2009, Miller and Cathy Cartieri Mehl of Pittsburgh wanted to do something for others and founded the Forever Fund in memory of her father, who died of heart disease. 

“I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I want with my life, so I wanted to direct my philanthropy toward helping kids who haven’t had the opportunity to experience life at all,” he told OSV. “Cathy wanted it to go toward hearts, and I decided on kids.” 

‘Keep God in your life’

As a lifetime athlete, Miller thought that swimming the English Channel would be an unusual fundraiser. He made it across in 12 hours and 4 minutes. On Sept. 16, he will take on the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. 

“The Catalina Channel [completed Aug. 3] is a migrating path for great white sharks,” he said. “As of December 2010, only 200 people have completed it. Molokai is much more difficult, and only 13 have done it. It starts out with treacherous waves and you have to fight to get past the breakers that crash on the great coral beds. Then there’s giant seaweed, aggressive tiger sharks and potentially deadly jellyfish.” 

He will be accompanied by a medical team and a crew armed against sharks. 

By 2013, he hopes to complete swims across the Irish Channel and Tsugaru Channel (Japan), Cook Strait off New Zealand and the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco. 

“When I swim, I sing songs in my head, like ‘Be Not Afraid,’ because God is with me,” Miller said. “That’s what I preach to groups, that the path is not easy, and that we are challenged to ask God to lead us. We all face difficulties in our lives, but the Lord is always at our side. I tell them that if I can use the strength of God to swim with great white sharks in the middle of the night, in the name of goodwill, then they can accomplish many things, too. The key is to always keep God in your life.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.