By David Smith
June 12th, 2016 I woke up to the news that the Pulse Orlando Nightclub was the scene of a horrific mass shooting. At first I thought, “oh great, here we go again” as mass shootings have come so commonplace in the United States that I’ve almost numbed to it.
This one was different however. I have never been to Pulse or even to Orlando that matter. I didn’t know anybody who was at the club that night nor had any real close connection to the event. However the more I learned about the events that unfolded. The people who were there and the victims that were so brutally assaulted by a coward I couldn’t help but put myself there and I cried. While I didn’t personally know those people, I felt a connection to them. LGBT brothers and sisters that only a year before we all fought and celebrated together when marriage equality was legalized in all 50 states, People that I felt the pain with after Mathew Shepherd’s death when I was younger. Here I was thousands of miles away in Colorado, crying over people I didn’t know but felt like family.
I wanted to do something, anything I could do to support my family and bring something positive out of such a horrific event. Even if it was a small effort, I wanted to do my part. I chose to channel my passion for swimming into a fundraiser. A way to help raise some cash that will help people who are recovering and still facing many struggles, even 6 months later.
Swimming 100x100s while no easy effort certainly was a challenge. I had done it in the past, for myself but this was different. For the first time I was doing it for someone else. I pledged to swim 100m for every $1 raised on January 1st, 2017. Originally I wanted 100m for $100 raised but quickly realized that goal was not realistic. I was going to swim 10,000m and raise $1,000. Of course like any fundraising campaign on social media, most went ignored for the first month and slowly donations trickled in.
A month out before the swim I ended up not doing any swimming due to many issues from an injury to food poisoning. The week before the swim I was nervous. Afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the 100x100s and while I was confident I would hit the $1000 fundraising goal. I wanted to swim the full distance I had said I would.
The day of the swim, I posted a video explaining what was about to happen and how the 100x100s would work. Within only a few minutes I started to see dozens of responses and shares. Suddenly people were donating like crazy and it seemed never-ending! In that day alone we raised over $400 and surpassed the $1000 goal by several hundred dollars! I guess this means it’s time to swim.
I started the 100x100s with 13 other people from the DU Masters group and while swimming I replayed the events of June 12th in my head as I read them. I thought about the people at the nightclub and their families. The victims and how scary the whole situation was. I didn’t know it was possible but I cried underwater.
As the 100x100s continued, more and more people started quitting, too tired or exhausted to continue they weren’t going to make it to 10,000m but I was determined too. Despite being out of shape, I wasn’t doing it just for myself. The 49th 100 really gave me chills as 49 people were killed in the nightclub on that fateful night. That particular set of 10x100s we did fly and it felt appropriate. For swimming one of the most challenging strokes is the butterfly and swimming my 49th 100 as butterfly I pushed myself through using my passion and emotion to drive me forward. Reminding myself that no matter how this felt, it was nothing compared to what the victims have gone through. This was all about supporting the 49 beautiful souls, their family, friends and legacy.
By the 80th 100 all had quit except 4 of us including myself. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain, my muscles were hurting but I wasn’t going to stop so short to the end. The other 3 contemplated quitting but I convinced them otherwise, I mean how could you come so close to the end and just give up? The last 2000m certainly felt like the longest but it was the most rewarding. For having hit the fundraising goal and my distance goal, I could climb out of the pool and say “we did it”. Yet despite my pain and ravenous hunger that soon followed. I continued to reflect on why we were there in the first place. Not just for personal accomplishment but to do something to help others. Millions of dollars have been raised after the shootings and thousands of people have channeled their passion into making a difference to ensure that another Pulse, another Mathew Shephard or anything else ever happens again.
If we continue to do our part and channel the very best within each of us toward creating a positive impact on the world, we can ensure that the 49 beautiful people we lost on that fateful day will not have died in vein. They will always be honored and remembered. Their legacy will live on as we create a better and safer world for all our LGBT family.