Thanking a Veteran means something different to everyone. Some express their gratitude with a simple “Thank You” or a handshake. Others may volunteer at their local Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Not many show their appreciation by swimming across one of the Great Lakes.
Norman Stark is a soon-to-be high school senior who lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. The seventeen-year-old runs cross country, plays lacrosse and competes in triathlons, but has focused on swimming for the past ten months.
“Last May, I had a dream where I couldn’t wake up but I was continuously swimming. I went downstairs and told my Mom that I wanted to swim across Lake Erie. She thought I was insane,” he said.
Norman is the fifth oldest of eight children in the Stark family. It’s safe to say that Norman’s mother Beata has heard it all.
“When he first told us about his dream we said forget about it, but now he has taught us that anything is possible,” Beata said.
Norman didn’t waste any time. He immediately called his mentor, Josh Heynes, who also happens to hold the record for the fastest swim across the 24.3 mile course across the lake. Josh started training Norman in August.
Soon after training began, Norman realized that he could leverage the attention he was receiving to make an impact.
“I immediately thought about doing it for the military,” he said.
Norman has been swimming since he was five, but naval tradition is nothing new to his family.
Joseph, Norman’s older brother is a United States Naval Academy graduate and swam on the academy’s swimming and diving team. His two older sisters Zofia and Catherine are both currently attending the academy.
His family’s frequent trips to the academy exposed him to military personnel and he began to pay closer attention to the struggles Servicemembers encounter. After looking in to several Veteran organizations, Norman chose the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund as the organization he wanted to raise money for.
The fund serves military personnel wounded or injured in service to our nation, and their families. Norman is specifically excited that the organization is building nine “Intrepid Spirit” centers near military bases across the United States to treat Servicemembers with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
He originally hoped to raise $10,000, but has already reached that goal. Now he’s shooting for $15,000.
“I’ve been getting a lot of mail. Every donation I get motivates me because all these people are behind me and I can train harder because of it,” he said.
Norman intends to swim 24.3 miles from Long Point, Ontario, Canada to Freeport Beach in North East, Pennsylvania.
Norman’s father, brother and the current record-holding mentor will be kayaking on each side as he makes the swim. If everything goes according to plan, they all think he has a chance of breaking the record which is 11 hours and 16 minutes.
“My dad keeps reminding me that my only goal is to finish,” he said.
Passport at the ready, Norman will make the swim during the week of July 13 if the weather cooperates.
Norman intends on becoming the fourth sibling of the Stark family to attend the U.S. Naval Academy but there is still hope for the U.S. Army swimming and diving team.
“I’m going to apply to the Army as well,” he said.
Track Norman’s progress as he swims across Lake Erie on his website or follow him on Twitter.