Charlie Parker is in a wheelchair but isn’t letting that stop him from completing American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford’s 100 Miles for Hope challenge.
While most of the thousands of participants are doing some combination of walking, cycling and running, 75-year-old Parker is swimming the entire distance.
Parker, a member of American Legion Post 852 in Murrieta, Calif., swims with a float device between his legs and only uses his arms to propel himself. The pool he swims in is only 45 feet long. At about seven strokes per lap, that’s 840 arm revolutions each mile or roughly 84,000 when he reaches the 100-mile threshold.
"People can walk 100 miles easily, people can bicycle 100 miles even easier, people could run or motorcycle ride 100 miles even easier,” Parker said. “Other than Olympic swimmers, which I was not, very few people swim more than a few hundred yards in a day. I have been a swimmer most of my life. I like doing things for other people so there is my inspiration. The choice to swim 100 miles is because that’s the only thing I can do and it gives me a personal challenge.”
The 100 Miles for Hope challenge is intended to get participants active while also funding the Veterans and Children Foundation (V&CF). This week marks the halfway point in the 100-day challenge, which Oxford kicked off Aug. 3 and runs through Veterans Day. There is still plenty of time to sign up by registering here.
Oxford is encouraging American Legion Family posts, units, squadrons and chapters to join together to encourage participation. For example, American Legion Riders chapters are creating 100-mile rides as part of the campaign. A new flyer to promote the 100 Miles for Hope campaign has been created and is available for posts to display and distribute.
About half of the $30 registration fee goes to the V&CF, after costs for the shirts and shipping. Some participants like Parker are also accepting donations to be later turned in to the V&CF.
“I like helping people,” he said. “If I can raise some money by swimming that will help veterans and children it makes me feel good.”
About three years ago Parker ended up in a wheelchair due to a combination of freak accidents that started when he fell out of a car assisting someone who was trying to rescue a stray dog.
“Exercise is extremely important to me because if I don’t keep myself in good physical shape, my life is going to even more of hell in a handbasket even faster,” he said, noting that he also is the primary caregiver for his wife, Gayle, who had a stroke on July 1, 2017. Parker handles the vast majority of the grocery shopping, cooking and setting up medical appointments, plus other regular household tasks.
“She’s doing relatively well in recovery but she has major memory lapses and a lot of very short term memory loss,” said Parker, a Navy veteran who served from 1967 to 1971. “Similar to someone with Alzheimer’s she will ask me the same question numerous times within a few minutes and it doesn’t mention it again for hours. My philosophy is if I don’t take care of myself I certainly can’t be expected to take care of her.”
At age 12, Parker had a fear of the water but learned to swim. “By the end of the summer, I had my junior life-saving badge and I kept swimming, became a life guard and taught swimming for three years.”
He has tracked his swimming throughout his life, estimating that he has gone 6,000 miles — the equivalent of going from San Diego to Honolulu and back to east of Denver.
So, for him, 100 miles in 100 days is a drop in the proverbial bucket.
“With that history I knew I would have no problem, finishing 100 miles,” he said. “However during that 100-day period, my wife and I both have multiple doctor’s appointments and other commitments which prevent me from swimming and many of those days. So I’ve increased my swimming to a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half per day in order to accomplish 100 miles in 100 days.”
To learn more about the challenge, register and get answers to all your questions in the FAQ section, please visit www.legion.org/100miles.