OSU student sets sights on swim for life


CORVALLIS - Taking the stance that there's more to college than classes and degrees, an Oregon State University senior is planning a 10-mile swim to raise money for Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

While Steve Stephens, a 26-year-old communication major from Clackamas, has been an occasional swimmer and played some water polo at Gresham High School, he has no formal experience in competitive or distance swimming.

"I just really want to make a difference, both here on campus and (for Doernbecher)," the 1991 Clackamas High School graduate said. There is no scarier thought than looking back at life in 30 or 40 years and seeing that you have accomplished little or nothing, he added.

"I don't want to be 50, 60, 70 years old and looking back at not having accomplished any significant goals."

Stephens plans to start his 10-mile swim at 9 a.m. on Nov. 29 on the OSU campus. He estimates the feat will take about eight hours. Setting an ambitious goal, Stephens hopes to raise at least $1 million with his swim, through a combination of private and corporate donors.

Funds raised in The "Doernbecher Swim for Life," will benefit the hospital's pediatrics cancer program. Stephens asks that anyone wishing to support his effort send donations endorsed to "Doernbecher's Swim for Life," to the Doernbecher Foundation, 1121 SW Salmon, Suite 201, Portland, OR 97205-2021. The hospital foundation can also be reached at 800-800-9583.

Founded in 1926, Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU has provided medical care to children throughout the region, without regard to a family's ability to pay. Last year, more than 30,000 children made more than 100,000 visits to the center.

While Stephens' plan is feasible, he has a tough time ahead, said Mariusz Podkoscielny, head coach for OSU's women's swim team. Podkoscielny has agreed to coach Stephens for the event.

"Steve just stopped by the office one day. Originally, he just had a couple of questions, but he had no swimming background and was being pulled in 10 different directions," said Podkoscielny, who is a nine-time All-American and two-time Olympian.

"Steve is not a great swimmer," Podkoscielny said. "He isn't a bad swimmer, and he is very athletic. It's going to be quite a feat, but I think he can accomplish it. It will be more of a mental rather than a physical challenge, but physically, I think he'll be fine if he can keep focused on the swimming.

"And, above all, it is for a good cause."

Stephens' idea was hatched about two years ago while he was working on a construction project near St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Each day he would see a busload of children headed for chemotherapy treatment. Despite their treatment regimen, he said most of the children maintained a happy outlook on life.

In addition to helping Doernbecher, Stephens said the event has the potential to motivate OSU students.

"Those are the people I want to target. I really want to make an impact; to set off a ripple effect throughout the region. Hopefully, people will get a lot out of this. I'm excited and I hope to get everyone excited and let them know there are ways to make a difference. Is the only point of college to go to classes, graduate, get your degree? No."