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A girl holds up a sign that reads "Thank you, Linda" as children drink from a newly-built well in India during September 2013. Linda DeHaai, a Platte woman, raised enough money to build five wells with her charity swimming event and she's holding another swim Wednesday on the Missouri River. (Courtesy of the Champions House Foundation)

Platte woman holding fundraiser swim on Missouri River

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The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PLATTE — Linda DeHaai may want to, but she can't swim 1,000 miles.

But on Wednesday she'll swim one mile, and that will be more than enough.

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DeHaai is organizing the "In the Water For Water" event, which will include about 20 area swimmers and involve swimming the Missouri River to raise money for Chamberlain-based Champions House Foundation. The foundation is hoping to raise $10,000 to put toward wells in India, where clean water is too often a luxury.

The event was held for the first time last year, and DeHaai raised enough money to build five wells in the tribal northeastern part of India.

"Even though it's minute or small, it's what I can do to help," she told The Daily Republic this week. "I've always loved swimming, so this is how I'm going to make a difference."

Many of the areas where Champions House provides wells have stagnant water or only small ponds to drink from, which leaves locals — who already don't have much for clothing or food — susceptible to severe diarrhea, dysentery or other life-threatening diseases. In Indian culture, these poor people are referred to as untouchables, or the lowest people in the lowest class of Indian society, a type of discrimination that dates back thousands of years.

DeHaai said those people who are living in constant hunger or thirst have motivated her to raise money.

"We really can't imagine what those people go through," she said. "We have so much here in the United States, and they have nothing."

The swim was scheduled last week, but it was pushed back by looming storms. Swimmers, including one as young as 9, will go into the water at 5 p.m. Wednesday. They will leave from the Snake Creek Recreation Area west of Platte on the river. A shorter swim of about a quarter-mile will be held for less-advanced swimmers in a quiet bay of the river. There is also a mile-long swim, which will cross the Missouri River from shore to shore.

Curtis Kredit, of Mitchell, will swim in the event. He's raised money from friends and family and colleagues at work. Kredit is familiar with swimming the Missouri River and said he was drawn to the event after seeing the DeHaai participate last year.

"I like to help out where I can, and I like to do anything for a good cause," he said.

Both Kredit and DeHaai said the hardest part of swimming on the river is the waves and keeping a strong mental focus.

"Swimming on the river is not for beginners," Kredit said.

"There's plenty of critters and fish in the river but nothing that will swallow you up," DeHaai laughs.

DeHaai was really inspired by two moments to help others. First, it was the outpouring of support she received when she had breast cancer in 2006 and went through treatments and surgeries. The second was in 2012, when she heard about adventurer Dave Cornthwaite, a British swimmer who covered 1,000 miles from Chamberlain to St. Louis on the Missouri River.

"I couldn't swim 1,000 miles, but I knew I could do something," she said.

So last year, she did. DeHaai swam five miles each day for three days on the Missouri River, with her family providing support on nearby kayaks.

Champions House Founder Tim Rancour said he's thankful that DeHaai has put in the time and effort to help with a project he's made a passion. With help from those overseas, he has put in 25 wells in India, a mark he is proud of. He said the wells have a 50-year guarantee and are one of the best investments money can buy. Many of the wells end up serving 700 to 800 people, he said.

"Lots of these places put up with really unspeakable diseases, things we can't believe," Rancour said. "To take something and make it her own is just wonderful and I can't think Linda enough."

To donate:

Checks may be sent to: Champions House Foundation, 24269 Hwy 50, Chamberlain, S.D., 57325.

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