By JOHN DEGROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
In the same month Leahi Camacho starts her final year of high school, she also will dive head first into the greatest adventure of her young life.
On Aug. 17, Camacho plans to swim 26 miles of open ocean across the Kaiwi Channel, from Laau Point on Molokai to Sandy Beach on Oahu.
“In 2009, my friend, Mackenzie Miller, did the swim,” Camacho said. “I thought it would be so cool to do that one day, but it kind of fell off my radar after that. One night, I was browsing the Internet, one link led to another, and I ended up on the Kaiwi Channel website and I started to think about it again.”
Just two weeks later, Camacho was standing in front of her coach, Steve Borowski, telling him her plan to be the youngest to ever cross the channel.
The Kaiwi Channel is widely considered one of the toughest swims in the world. Currently, only 26 people have successfully crossed the channel — 13 male and 13 female. Camacho would be the youngest to complete the feat.
Raised in the ocean, it was only natural the Kealakehe senior would eventually push the boundaries beyond what she could find in her backyard of Kona.
“I have never been an ultra-distance swimmer,” Camacho said. “I have been doing ocean swims since I was very little, though. I remember getting pulled out when I was a little kid, and ever since then, I have fallen in love with the ocean.”
The gauntlet of training that Borowski has run Camacho through in preparation has been tough but has paid off.
Camacho has crushed every ocean swim she has been in, most recently sweeping the Big Island Triple Crown of Swimming by winning the Hapuna Rough Water Swim, the Cinco de Mayo Swim and the King’s Swim.
The Kaiwi Channel is a different beast though, and Camacho is well aware of that.
“I have talked to some of the people who have done channel swims, and the number one thing that they come across in terms of danger is jellyfish,” Camacho said. “Some people get stung, and one lady even swallowed one. The swells can also range from five to 10 feet, and conditions change in a matter of hours. It’s basically luck of the draw when I decided to jump in.”
As Camacho chips away the miles, she’ll receive help from a large support boat and two kayakers who will provide her with the nutrition she needs on the trek that will last approximately 15 hours.
The dangers are not just lurking in the dark ocean waters — there are obvious physical and mental obstacles Camacho must overcome achieve her goal.
“I know I will hit a few mental blocks where my mind will want to give up even before my body does, but to know at the end that I accomplished this and made it 26 miles will be something unforgettable.”
Camacho draws her strength and motivation from the support she has received from those close to her and the community.
“My dad has been there through everything, and my coach has done a great job preparing me,” Camacho said. “An array of channel swimmers have also reached out to me on Facebook and other places giving me pieces of advice. Everyone around me has been so incredibly supportive.”
Camacho hopes her expedition will serve as an inspiration.
“I want to be an inspiration for kids who think they can’t do certain things, and to look at this and say, ‘If a 17-year-old can swim from island to island I can do incredible things too.’ Hopefully, I can be an example for someone who wants to do something great that they have always wanted to do.”
While being the youngest to cross Kaiwi Channel would be a legendary achievement, Camacho has even greater dreams on the horizon that she hopes to reach one day.
One of those goals is to complete the Ocean’s Seven — a group of long distance swims that includes the Irish Channel, the Cook Strait, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel, the Tsugaru Strait, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Kaiwi Channel.
“It would be one of my biggest dreams to complete the Ocean’s Seven,” Camacho said. “It has been completed by only two females ever. It would be one of the biggest things I could possibly do.”
Camacho is still looking to raise money to turn her dream into a reality. The price tag for the journey: $7,000 to $10,000. Any remaining money will be donated to the Talbert Family Foundation.
To make a donation, contact Camacho at 443-6714 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
You can also visit her website, takingonthebigblue.blogspot.com for more information and updates on her journey.