Isle Swimmer Takes On Red River

Mike Miller with daughter Mackenzie at her graduation from Vanguard University earlier this month. Photo from Miller family

Mike Miller with daughter Mackenzie at her graduation from Vanguard University earlier this month. Photo from Miller family

Kaneohe’s Mike Miller, one of Hawaii’s premier long-distance swimmers, just turned 60 years old. So how’s he going to celebrate? How about swimming in North Dakota!

No kidding. Miller will head to Grand Forks, N.D., next month to take on the Extreme North Dakota Watersports Endurance Test (also known as END-WET), a 36-mile swim down the Red River of the North from Grand Forks to Oslo, Minn.

“I wanted to do something different after I turned 60,” Miller tells me. “People look at me in wonderment when I tell them I’m swimming a river in North Dakota, but the people there are thrilled that someone from Hawaii will come to their backyard.”

Miller also just found out that he is ranked No. 1 in the World Swimming Majors rankings in his new age category. “That surprised me,” he says.

Miller is hardly a novice to the sport. He’s been attacking long-distance open-water swims since the late 1970s – he swam the Molokai Channel in 1979 and the Maui Channel in 1980. A few years later, he moved with his new bride (former KHON personality Laura Sollar Miller) from Ohio to Hawaii.

By the early 2000s, Miller was swimming big events all over the world, including the Manhattan Island and Ederle Swims in New York, the Catalina Swim in southern California, and eventually the famed English Channel in 2008.

Miller swam part of that distance with his teenage daughter Mackenzie, and although she was not able to tame the channel becayse of the bitterly cold water, the then-55-year-old became the first swimmer living in Hawaii to finish the channel swim. (Joe Nagi, who eventually settled in Kailua, also completed the English Channel Swim in 1964 while then being from Michigan.)

Miller’s longest swims have been the 26-mile distance from Molokai to Oahu and the 28-mile swim around New York City’s Manhattan Island. With the increased distance in North Dakota, up to 36 miles this year in the 100-yard wide river, this will be his longest endurance test.

“The distance is a major challenge,” he says. “It’s eight miles longer than I’ve ever swam before. The uniqueness of being in a river is also something different.”

Miller says he’s never been to North Dakota, but he won’t be the only swimmer from Hawaii there. Stefan Reinke, an attorney from Honolulu, is expected to swim the event, too.

“We’re seeing we can do some long hours of training at Ala Moana at night,” Miller says. “The sun is too intense to swim six to eight hours straight during the day, so we may try to start later in the afternoon and swim late into the evening.”

He says the North Dakota event could take as much as “14 to 18 hours to complete. There are 40 individuals and 10 teams,” he says. “The current could help us, as they estimate the current at about a half-mile an hour, sometimes more, sometimes less.”

While the scenery isn’t very exciting – the event website reports the river has “about 25 uninterrupted miles without a single road, bridge or phone wire, only a couple of farm buildings to look at,” at least the water temperatures should be mild, approximately 75 degrees. That’s quite a rise from near-hypothermic conditions Miller experienced while conquering Manhattan Island and the English Channel.

The race is scheduled for the first day of summer, June 21. Mike Miller is hoping this unique North Dakota experience begins a summer to remember.