Swimmer making way down the Ohio

Published 10:18 am Monday, June 7, 2010

She’ll be comin’ down the channel, when she comes. That’s the Ohio River channel.

And if Mimi Hughes keeps to her schedule, the intrepid swimmer from Taft, Tenn., will arrive in the Ashland-Ironton area on Wednesday evening. Here she will spend the night before getting an early start the next day heading for Franklin Furnace.

By that time she will have made about a third of her goal to swim the 981 miles of the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Ill., 20 miles a day.

“She starts at 9 and some days will get out of the water at 5,’’ according to Joanna Lai, who is providing land support for Hughes as well as filming the journey. “But yesterday, there were head winds and she came out at 9. And it’s like food and a shower.”

Hughes, 54 and a mother of four, is doing the marathon swim to promote national awareness of organizations that provide life skills and education for girls. All money raised will go to the Central Asia Institute that has built schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and organizations chosen by the communities along the Ohio River.

A remedial and developmental teacher, Hughes isn’t a novice when it comes to swimming great distances for what she deems are important causes.

In 1997, she swam across the Bering Sea to Russia to promote peace between nations. That was followed by a swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco. Seven years later it was the Tennessee River, followed by the Danube and Mura rivers.

When she chose to swim her home state river, it was to bring more attention to the need for preserving clean water and the environment. At that time, she made a statement on a Web site on why she was making such a dramatic gesture.

“My swim will be a pilgrimage, one of athletic endurance driven by my determination to preserve our beautiful river,” she wrote. “Our river is at risk and in need of attention. I want my swim to generate interest among the people of the Tennessee Valley to take responsibility for improving the condition of the Tennessee River and its shoreline.”

Joining her throughout the swim will be a team of kayakers who will guide her through various segments of the journey and help her hike around the 21 locks and dams down the Ohio.

When Hughes reaches the Ironton area, Marsha Wikle, assistant ranger of the Ironton Ranger District of Wayne National Forest, will chaperone her from Franklin Furnace to right below Manchester.

“This is bringing together people,” Lai said about the swim. “It is to make people aware of causes. She wouldn’t do this if it was for glory.”