After three weeks in the Willamette, Dean Hall nears end of journey

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: STEPHEN CRIDLAND - Wrapped in a space blanket and drinking hot tea, Hall takes a short break on the river bank to warm up.People thought he was crazy when he said he wanted to swim the entire length of the Willamette River and be the first person in history to accomplish the feat.

But that’s all water under the bridge now, figuratively and literally speaking.

Gresham therapist and swimmer Dean Hall plans to reach Portland by Sunday.

By then, the 54-year-old — diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma — will have swam 168.5 miles, battled rapids, flat waters, hypothermia and long grueling hours in the frigid river.

He said his body is starting to beg for rest.

Hall had his first setback on Wednesday, covering only eight miles of the 12-mile day he’d planned.

Exhausted from the previous day’s swim, Hall said in a message to the Outlook Wednesday night, he was trying to swim through what’s known as the “Newberg Pool,” or mile after mile of wide, flat water with no visible current.

“I had to work for every mile,” he said.

Losing out four miles on a 12-mile swim put him back 24 hours. Hall had originally planned to reach Portland on Saturday.

Nonetheless, around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, June 22, Hall will get into the water at Willamette Park, on Southwest Macadam Avenue in Portland.

Boaters, kayakers and swimmers are invited to jump in with Hall and paddle along behind him as he swims one of his final legs to a rocky beach access on the Portland waterfront just south of the Hawthorne Bridge.

Hall, along with his 79-year-old father, also diagnosed with leukemia, who has been kayaking alongside with his son, will land at Tom McCall Bowl on the west river bank around 11:30 a.m.

There will be a celebration and anyone is welcome to join.

But Hall isn’t finished yet.

After much needed rest, next week Hall will swim the last 12 miles of his 184-mile odyssey to the confluence of the Columbia River.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: STEPHEN CRIDLAND - Diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma, Dean Hall has been swimming 6 to 14 miles a day for three weeks now. He plans to reach his goal at the confluence of the Columbia River early next week.Outfitted in a wetsuit and guided by kayakers, Hall started swimming from Eugene on June 2.

Hall said he has not quite reached his goal of raising $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. 

Supporters are asked to donate $1 (or $10) for every mile he swims.

Swimming anywhere from six to 12 miles a day in 50 degree to 60 degree weather and the water temperature even colder, Hall said he takes frequent breaks to warm up.

During a rainy grey spell earlier this week, he said, “The river never warmed up.”

He still managed to swim 12 miles a day four days in a row.

On breaks, Hall’s mom serves him up hot tea, while his dad, Dick Hall, wraps him in a beanie, fleece and space blanket.

“I try to warm up for about 15 minutes,” he said.

He jokes that on some days, he will just be getting comfortable, when his dad will whip away the blanket and tell him to get back in the river.

Hall spends each night near where he steps out of the river that day, recently in Independence, Salem, Wheatland Fairy and Newberg.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

On the way to Wheatland Fairy, the team realized there was no public access point to get in and out of the river for 22 miles.

A pastor in Dayton who his father knew helped the men get in touch with a farmer who let them use his property.

“That was great news,” Hall said. “The bad news is it was only an 8.5-mile swim.”

Sundays are days of rest, and Hall spent this last one, on Father’s Day, with his father and 21-year-old daughter.

Hall documents his journey on his Facebook blog, Swimming in Miracles. After the swim is complete, he plans to share his experience with others and continue helping people achieve their dreams as a personal coach and licensed therapist in Gresham.

Hall and the river have become close companions over the last 17 days.

Before he embarked on his trip, friends told Hall the experience would teach him in ways he could never have imagined.

In his blog, Hall updates friends, family and fans with thoughts he has during his swims. He calls them “River Whispers.”

After he lost his wife to brain cancer in 2007, Hall said he’s had a hard time letting go, not only of her, but to the depression and sadness he experienced afterward.

An epiphany he had on the 13th days of his swim was especially poignant:

“You can only swim in the river you are in,” Hall wrote. “I realized yesterday that when I relentlessly hold on to the past I am attempting to swim in the water that has long since flowed down the river.”

Everyone has heard the cliché that “water is under the bridge” a thousand times, but Hall said its meaning never hit him until he was miles into the Willamette.

“It is different now,” he wrote. “Now, I have been the companion of water and held its embrace while we traveled together under many bridges. Much of that water I will never see, feel or swim in again,” he said. “It is out to sea.”

“Much of the hurt, guilt and grief I have experienced is gone as well. It is out to sea. Today, I swim in the river I am in.”

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