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To Raise Awareness For Climate Change, 50-Year-Old Makes Bid To Swim Across Pacific

Jun 3, 2018
Originally published on June 3, 2018 4:41 pm

On Tuesday, 50-year-old swimmer Ben Lecomte will push off from a beach in Choshi, Japan, wearing a shark repellent bracelet and an armband to track radiation in the ocean. He hopes to reach San Francisco in six months as the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean.

A successful 5,500-mile journey will be a feat of athleticism and a major scientific opportunity. Lecomte, a Frenchman now living in Texas, is traveling alongside a boat with a six-person crew. He'll swim eight hours per day on a route that includes the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the White Shark Migration Area.

Scientific partners, including NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have provided equipment for the swimmer's crew to conduct research on his body and the ocean along the way. They'll gather over 1,000 water samples, in part to gather data on pollution and plant life.

Lecomte has been planning the journey since he swam across the Atlantic Ocean 20 years ago. This time, he'll pick up each morning exactly where he left the night before, in hopes that this swim will become an official record. Seeker.com and Discovery have teamed up to track the journey, which Lecomte is doing in part to raise awareness for climate change.

"The ocean is in peril," he says. "I think it's my duty to use my passion to make a little change."

Weekend Edition's Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Lecomte as he prepares for his swim.

Interview highlights

On starting the swim

The real training will start when I jump in the water. Because it's not something you can really replicate, you know — swimming eight hours a day, sleeping on the boat and having limited contact with the outside — it's very particular.

On what scares Lecomte about the trip

The sharks are there, I mean, that's their environment. But for me, the biggest concern, I think — it's mostly the cold water. Because you can do so much in cold water after so many hours in the water, and no matter how thick your wetsuit is, you get cold, and it's very, very uncomfortable.

After his swim across the Atlantic, Lecomte said "never again"

It didn't take that long for me to change my mind. Three, four months afterwards I was already thinking about my next adventure and doing something kind of the same.

I had the idea of the swim in the Pacific early on, but I got married and had children so I put that on the side. That was my priority, and now I come back to that dream that I had. I don't want to live with any regrets, so it's something that I've pursued, and I'm determined to do it.

On his children, who will join the last leg of Lecomte's journey

They are very enthusiastic. They are with me right now, they were on the boat last night with me and they are going to be on the boat tonight, and love it. We swim very often together, so we share the same passion.

On why he's swimming across the Pacific

The ocean is in peril. I'm very sensitive to my kids and knowing what they are going to have in their lives. I think it's my duty to try to use my passion to make a little change. We have to find what our role is if we want to preserve what we have. And that's very important for me — and for me to do that for my children.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's 5,700 miles to cross the Pacific Ocean. And a 50-year-old French swimmer is aiming to be the first person to swim the whole way. This Tuesday, Ben Lecomte will start the journey from a beach in Choshi, Japan and try to swim to San Francisco. A crew - people will be following him by boat and documenting the journey to raise awareness of climate change and ocean preservation. He joins us now from his boat in Choshi.

Welcome to the program.

BENOIT LECOMTE: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you train for the conditions that you'll face? It's not just the logistics, but it's also you, right?

LECOMTE: It's part of it, yes. But I've been swimming and doing those type of open water for a long time. And the real training will start when I jump in the water because it's not something you can really replicate, you know, swimming eight hours a day, sleeping on a boat and having a limited contact with the outside. It's very particular. So...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it's not just your physical sense, but I suppose it also is your mind.

LECOMTE: Absolutely. It's mind over matter. So with the mind, you know, when you are strong and you are determined and focused, you can go and push your body, past, certain limits that sometimes you cannot push. So the mind is the most important component there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask you, though - it is mind over matter, but there is matter in the water. What are the things that you are afraid of? I mean, I, of course, think of sharks, but what are you worried about?

LECOMTE: No, the sharks are there. I mean, that's their environment. But for me the biggest concern, I think - it's mostly the cold water because you can do so much in cold water after so many hours in the water. No matter how thick your wetsuit is, you get cold, and it's very, very uncomfortable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you've done this before when you crossed the Atlantic. You said that your first words after you crossed were never again (laughter). And I wonder what changed your mind.

LECOMTE: That's funny because it didn't take that long for me to change my mind. Three, four months after, I was already thinking about the next adventure and doing something kind of the same. And I had the idea of the swim in the Pacific early on, but I got married and had children. So I put that on the side and...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ah, family.

LECOMTE: Yeah, exactly. So that was my priority. And now that I come back to the dream that I had. And I don't want to leave with any, you know, regrets. So it's something that I've pursued, and I'm determined do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What do your kids think?

LECOMTE: Well, they are very enthusiastic. They are with me right now. They were on the boat last night with me and are going to be on the boat tonight and love it. We swim very often together, so we share the same passion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Lecomte, I must ask you this question, and I'm sure you get it a lot. But why are you doing this?

LECOMTE: Well, for me, I have had the opportunity to do many swim and enjoy the environment so that now it is just normal that I try to do anything I can to protect it because the ocean is in peril. And I'm very sensitive to my kids in knowing what they are going to have in their life. So I think it's my duty to try to use my passion to make a little change. And we have to find what our role is if we want to preserve what we have. And that's very important for me and very important for me to do that for my children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ben Lecomte is attempting to swim the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco. I wish you the very best of luck. Thank you very much.

LECOMTE: Well, thank you very much for your interest.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTY LARKIN SONG, “TRAVELLING ALONE”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.