Good Morning, Good Morning! And happy Fri-YAY! I’m checking in with you all today to tell you about an amazing endeavor that St. John resident, Jeff Miller, will be attempting at some point in the next few weeks. Miller, the first person to ever swim around the entire island of St. John, will attempt to swim 15.5 miles from Virgin Gorda to St. John as soon as weather and current conditions permit. And he is attempting this incredible test of athleticism and skill in order to raise funds and awareness for two charities that exist simply to help people live more fulfilling and healthier lives.
On September 24, 2016, Miller swam 23.2 miles around the island of St. John beginning, and ending, at the old sea plane ramp in Cruz Bay. Taking off at 3:11AM, he left Cruz Bay, traversed the South Shore and swam AROUND Ram Head (can you imagine?). From there he swam, with only swim goggles and a silicone swim cap, around the East End and then Mary Point before the final stretch along the idyllic North Shore. He ended this lengthy and tiresome endeavor at 3:30 PM… circumnavigating the island of St. John in just over twelve hours.
Throughout the course of the preparation and completion of this 2016 swim, Miller and his supporters raised $12k for Team River Runner (TRR) and the St. John Cancer Fund (STJCF). And this spring, he is taking on a new and much more challenging venture to benefit the same groups. He will attempt to swim 15.5 miles through the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the shores of Virgin Gorda to the East End of St. John in the Drake Channel Swim for Soldier and Survivors.
A few things…You might be thinking, “Well, this is a shorter swim. So how is it more challenging?”
Albeit shorter, Miller will be navigating “uncharted” waters in this open water swim assisted along the way by a safety boat and two kayaks. You see, he was able to practice for the St. John circumnavigation by swimming different parts of the course over the time leading up to the 2016 swim. Due to customs and other factors, this will be his first time swimming the majority of this course.
Miller and one of his two safety kayak teams during the 2016 swim around St. John
Additionally, any open water swim such as this is INCREDIBLY dependent upon the currents and the weather being cooperative. For example, if the currents are pushing to the north, he could get pushed off course to Tortola, relinquishing the swim. Too far to the south? Miller and his safety crew end up south of Cooper Island and into open ocean. Again, relinquishing the finish line. The currents have to be working together JUST right in order to get Miller to his final destination: St. John.
I have a tremendous amount of respect and gratitude for the ocean that when I’m able to complete a swim, I feel like the ocean just let me play and do the things I need to do,” Miller told me on a quiet afternoon in the Mongoose Junction courtyard. “I didn’t beat the conditions. I was allowed to play in the conditions. Because many times you can’t.”
So, he continuously watches and waits and studies the currents and their patterns in order to understand the best time to green light the swim. The biggest challenge is that the currents can be read only about 36-48 hours out. So, this is going to be very much a last minute, hop in the boat and GO type of endeavor.
Sir Francis Drake Channel with Great Thatch Island at left and Tortola Island in the distance. – Photo: George H. H. Huey
Miller currently (pun intended) plans to take on this challenge sometime between May 24 and May 31. Why that window? Because during that time, three members of Team River Runner will be on St. John for the Friends of the Park Beach to Beach Power Swim. And he very much would enjoy these veterans being on the safety team to participate and ride along for this groundbreaking swim. But, Mother Nature beckons not to the call of man and our plans, as we have all seen before. If the conditions are not just right while the TRR team is on island, Miller told me he is still one hundred per cent committed to attempting the swim. It just may be a little later than the end of May.
In addition to being on the support team for this swim, Team River Runner, along with St. John Cancer Fund, will be a beneficiary of the funds raised surrounding the time frame and media hype of this undertaking. You might recognize the TRR name as this organization is no stranger to St. John. The group sponsors veterans’ travel to Love City to “find health, healing, community purpose, and new challenges through adventure and adaptive paddle sports.”
Photo: Team River Runner- St. John
Here they participate in an array of athletic and fundraising events each year. And it is awe inspiring. Veterans, many times wounded in combat, traverse the “8 Tuff Miles” across the island each February. They excel in the Beach to Beach Power Swim and Paddle the Park. They sweep St. John residents on the Chaotic Kayak course. And by supporting TRR with this fundraiser, Miller hopes that they will be able to send more veterans to participate in these activities and for a healing retreat in Love City.
Team River Runner member and Veteran, Travis Strong, was the first person to complete the 8 Tuff Miles across St. John using a hand cycle. PHOTO (2017)- Dean Greenaway VI Daily News
Speaking of Love City, the other recipient of the funds raised during this campaign is one that touches every single person who lives on this island. The St. John Cancer Fund is a grassroots organization set up to ease cancer-related financial hardships for St. John residents and their families. In short, they provide unrestricted financial assistance to cancer patients on an island that is vastly under-insured and without advanced health care options.
This funding can help with travel expenses for treatment, the treatment itself or simply overhead that the survivor can’t cover themselves while receiving treatment or recovering. In short, this fund is a security blanket for someone going through possibly the hardest time of their life with nowhere else to turn.
And all funds raised during this campaign will be split evenly between these two charities that support people and offer them a light in the darkest times. Like many charities, COVID-19 stopped in-person fundraising for these two charities in 2020 (the last annual Light up the Night walk for St. John Cancer Fund was held early 2020). Yet our amazing veterans still need our help, and sadly, cancer, has not gone away.
STJCF’s major annual fundraiser, Light up the Night, has not taken place since January of 2020.
Many of your favorite St. John businesses have sponsored a mile of this swim in support of these charities. 340 Real Estate, Coral Bay Adventures, Dulce Vita Sails, The Windmill Bar, Upstairs Bar, American Paradise Real Estate, Wharfside Watersports, Cinnamon Bay Campground, Coral Bay Yacht Club, North Shore Deli, High Tide, Lovango Resort + Beach Club, Beach Bar, Flyaway Charters, Island Roots Charters and Salty Daze Charters have all enlisted their fiscal support of Miller’s upcoming challenge.
Jeff Miller shows up in support of STJCF’s fundraising efforts at Windmill Bar last Sunday- Pictured: STJCF Board Member Hank Slodden (L), Jeff Miller (C), Bingo winner who donated ALL of his winnings to the cause(R)!
But there are other ways to donate in honor of our soldiers and survivors! Giving is easy and it is just a click of the button and donations can be made either via credit card or check online. $5, $50 or $500 all make a difference in bringing more veterans down to enjoy St. John and supporting one more survivor’s battle with cancer. Please visit the kindful donation platform to support this incredible challenge!
If you are a business on St. John or St. Thomas and are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please contact the fundraiser via email for more information.
Oh, and you can follow along with updates about the swim via the Drake Channel Swim for Soldiers and Survivors Facebook event. Here, detailed information about the status of the swim and donation goals will be shared so you can all follow along from commencement to the finish line!
Miller, still smiling, after his 23 mile swim around St. John in 2016- Photo- St. Thomas Source
Please take a moment to watch this video that Miller observed in person that was the inspiration for much of his effort, both the 2016 swim and this current one. “These TRR guys are amazing and so worthy of our support. This will be a different type of Chaotic Kayak event!”