Chris Ring is slightly dazed, and the arms and legs of his wetsuit show holes from run-ins with logs and other obstacles he’s encountered on his historic swim of the Mississippi River.

“That water was pretty choppy. I was rolling all over the place,” he said minutes after emerging from the river at the base of the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis. “I’m a little tired, but you get out [of the water] and it gives you a big boost to see the families of soldiers who have come out to see you.”

Ring, a Navy combat veteran, is trying to become the first American to swim the entire length of the Mississippi River, a feat he’s attempting in honor of our country’s fallen heroes and their families. The challenge, called Swim for Their Sacrifice, is sponsored by Legacies Alive, an organization supporting families of soldiers killed in combat.

About a dozen people met Ring on Monday night as he reached the halfway point of his journey in St. Louis. The families of fallen soldiers cheered the 28-year-old Tennessean as he approached the cobblestone landing and gave him hugs, even though he was dripping wet, when he stepped out.

“We’re doing this so no one ever forgets about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s about awareness and our desire to carry on the legacy of our fallen soldiers,” said Ring. “This [leg] is an important piece, because this is about halfway [down the Mississippi].”

Since June, Ring has been swimming an average of 15 miles a day. He will cover2,552 miles over approximately six months and anticipates reaching the end of his journey in the Gulf of Mexico sometime in November.

“You never know what to expect on the river. It can be calm one day and stormy the next. The water can be warm one day and freezing cold the next,” he said. “One memorable day, we were in a section of the river about three miles wide and a storm rolled in. I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me and had to deal with some pretty big waves. I could feel the lighting hit the water somewhere ahead.”

But those are the times when Ring thinks about his mission.

“It’s not about setting a record, it’s about bringing awareness to our fallen heroes, and connecting as many of their families as possible,” said Ring. “I think about that a lot while I’m swimming.”

Get more information about Legacies Alive and Swim for their Sacrifice at

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine