Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Colin’s Hope swim aims to prevent drownings

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published July 1, 2013

The coolest, happiest way to kick off the work week? By swimming 4 miles down Lake Austin, of course.

I did that one better this morning, by swimming those 4 miles in the wake of Olympic swimmers Brendan Hansen and Elli Overton.

Jealous, aren’t you? I was one of about 30 swimmers participating in the Colin’s Hope Got2Swim 4-miler, a fund-raiser to raise awareness about drowning prevention.

We hopped into the river at the Pennybacker Bridge and sloshed out at Walsh Landing, just a few doors down from Hula Hut. As we glided through mile after mile of blue-green water, we passed boat docks, blue herons, Mount Bonnell and Westlake Beach.

The swim was beautiful, but it’s the cause that drew us to the water.

So far this year, nearly 30 children have drowned in Texas. Here in the Austin area, a 10-year-old girl and her father died last week at McKinney Falls State Park. And just this weekend, a 24-year-old drowned at Lake Travis.

Colin’s Hope, an Austin-based non-profit organization created by Jeff and Karen Holst after their 4-year-old son Colin drowned at an Austin fitness center in 2008, works to raise water safety awareness to prevent children from drowning.

Turns out my pace in the morning swim exactly matched fellow swimmer Leslie Blanke, so we cruised the entire way side by side, pausing every 20 or 30 minutes to slug Gatorade, water and energy gels. (Thanks to support paddlers Ian Berryhill and David Blanke!)

When we waded out of the water a little more than 2 hours later, I sat down to chat with Hansen, who told me about his reasons for supporting Colin’s Hope.

Hansen, 31, a former University of Texas breaststroker with six Olympic medals to his name, lost a friend to drowning in 2010. Fran Crippen, a champion open-water swimmer, died during a swimming race in the United Arab Emirates.

Hansen says he thought about his childhood friend while swimming down Lake Austin. He also thought about how he wants other children to enjoy the water the way he did growing up.

Hansen and his wife Martha, who met through competitive swimming, had their first baby, Charlotte, in December.

“That’s where it hit home,” Hansen said. “When you become a dad, why would you not want your kids to be water safe?”

That’s when he ramped up his efforts to do what he could to prevent drowning. Charlotte started taking swim lessons when she was three months old.

“I felt that half the battle is educating parents,” he says. “No one ever realizes the situation until it’s already happened.”

Today’s 4-mile route - which Hansen says he has long wanted to do - marked the longest contiguous swim Hansen has ever done.

“I’ve done a 12,000-yard workout, but never straight,” he said. “Today I really wanted it to hurt. I didn’t want to just do it, I wanted to feel some pain and know a little bit about what it feels like to those families (who lost someone to a drowning).”

For more information about Colin’s Hope or to donate to the organization, go to www.colinshope.org. Another, even longer swim, is scheduled for Aug. 29 on Lake Austin.