Twelve Miles

A swim to rescue, rebuild and restore…

By Mike Savicki


How far do I need to swim to help a brother?


How far do I need to swim to heal their wounds and stop the pain and suffering that ripples through the veteran community?


How far do I need to swim to reduce the number of soldier and civilian suicides that happen every single day in our nation’s cities and small towns?


These are the questions Shannon Rush, 37, a U.S. Navy Seal Team 4 veteran, asked himself in early 2013 when he first looked at a map of Lake Norman and wondered what he could do to make a change in the lives of others.


His answer was different than what you might imagine.


To a Navy SEAL, distance isn’t something typically measured in miles. Numbers don’t really matter as much as the mission. The effort is what matters.


So Mooresville’s Rusch simply chose two of his favorite locations on the lake – Queen’s Landing and Rusty Rudder – as his start and finish points and began planning.


“Hey, man, how far did we swim that one time in BUDS?” Rusch asked Rich Graham, a BUDS Class 236 friend and SEAL Team 10 veteran who now lives in Orlando. “Wasn’t it like fourteen miles?”


“No, it was more like seven,” Graham replied. “But it felt like at least fourteen.”


So Rusch asked Graham if he wanted to join him on a 12-mile swim across Lake Norman. Knowing that he still had the passion to serve, Graham agreed.


Then he called Troy Pusateri, another BUDS Class 236 friend, who now lives in Charleston, and asked him to join forces. Pusateri agreed without hesitation.


Six weeks later, on a hot early August morning, the trio took to the water with a new mission – a purpose unlike anything they had ever undertaken before. Leaving Queen’s Landing shortly after sunrise, they relayed their way in 30-minute shifts southward towards Rusty Rudder.


Their goals? To help draw awareness to the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day amidst a lack of proper mental and physical healthcare resources, and to raise funds to help send veterans to camps and programs around the country that offer care, support, education and solutions.


“There is a team of Navy SEALS swimming across the lake right now,” boaters radioed to one another.


An escort armada of boats soon surrounded the trio.


Their plan was to cover the 12-mile distance in approximately eight hours, but because they swam so fast, and with such purpose, they approached Rusty Rudder well ahead of schedule.


“Let’s add a couple miles,” Rusch said to his teammates. “We wouldn’t want to arrive at our party before the guests, would we?”


After eight hours in the water, and what ultimately measured at more than 14 miles, Rusch had not only raised money and awareness, but also created quite a buzz. As Rush, Graham and Pusateri entered the final stretch, police and fireboats showered them with a water cannon rarely seen on the lake. Their mission was complete.


“The reality – and that’s why we got in the water – is that our warrior brothers return home from battle, whether they are soldiers or civilians, with wounds to the heart,” Rusch says. “And because those wounds have not been addressed or healed properly, whether they are recent or go back as far as Vietnam, they open up again, and the pain comes back, when these guys are in stressful situations.


“Healing goes beyond simply the warrior,” he continues. “It helps the spouse, the children, the family members, friends and co-workers reclaim something that is missing, too. When you think about how an illness can ripple through a community, and all the lives it impacts, it makes it that much more important to close the wounds and heal.


Our goal last year, as it will be this August, too, is to restore that leader spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, give him back his life, and help the community grow stronger. It’s that simple,” he adds.


How far would you swim to help a brother?


This article was originally published in Currents Magazine in 2014.