Last year, Julie McAdam Farr practically hyperventilated on her drive over to UC San Diego’s Canyon View pool for her first experience with the Swim 24Challenge, a 24-hour relay race to support aquatic programs. The little voice in her head kept asking “Why, Julie, why?”

When Farr joined the board of the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation, she hadn’t really planned on actually getting into the water.

But Farr and her teammates returned this year and signed up for the third-annual Swim 24Challenge in August.

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Their goal wasn’t to beat everyone else, though. While endurance athletes often push themselves to the limit, Swim 24 isn’t about who can swim the most laps. Instead, the relay race focuses on saving lives.

For 24 hours straight, Farr and her teammates swam across the pool in shifts to raise money for the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation and Water Proofing San Diego, a foundation program that funds aquatic safety education like swim lessons for families in underserved neighborhoods throughout San Diego County.

Participants and spectators have included Frank Whitton, a multiple sclerosis patient who swam 80 laps and shared his story about how swimming saved his life, and a 14-year-old City Heights boy who learned to swim via a foundation grant and saved a friend at the beach from drowning. He wants to be a lifeguard.

At this year’s event, teams swam over 1.6 million yards — just under 1,000 miles — and raised at least $125,600.

Photo courtesy San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation
Photo by Jinna Filton

Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death for children under the age of 15. The drowning rate for minority children is even greater, averaging nearly three times higher than Caucasians.

Swim 24Challenge is the brainchild of former San Diego city lifeguard Corey McClelland, CEO of the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation, and a team of endurance athletes. The four athletes started Enduragive, a local nonprofit that focuses on giving back while handling fundraising a little differently than other charities, says McClelland.

The Swim 24Challenge is roughly based on the wildly popular Ragnar overnight relay races that take place throughout the country.

As the 2016 Olympic Games shows, swimming is a hot sport. According to McClelland, the pool deck at the Swim 24Challenge was packed throughout the event with participants, volunteers, musical performers, and general spectators.

There are swimmers of all styles in the water. While UC San Diego’s swim team focuses on swimming the most laps, other teams are coming up with other ways to just keep moving in the water.

Farr’s team takes an “anything goes” approach to the event using pool floats, kickboards, and fins, which keep it lively to the end. “When I took my last shift on Sunday morning, the energy and enthusiasm at the pool were just as strong as when we started the challenge Saturday at noon,” she says.

Greg Buchanan, the Foundation’s president, convinced his wife to get involved. She enjoys aquatic sports but likes to keep her head out of water. “She is being motivated by her husband,” Buchanan says, “but more importantly, it’s a great cause, and she looks forward to aqua-jogging at 2 a.m.!”

Throughout the year, the Foundation uses the funds for swimming lessons and water safety education. It partners with organizations including the Monarch School, Father Joe’s Villages, the Jackie Robinson YMCA, King-Chavez Neighborhood of Schools, the city of San Diego, and military families.

Lessons are primarily focused on third- through fifth-grade students. After completing swimming lessons, children spend time at the beach learning to surf and getting educated on ocean safety through the Foundation’s Bridge to the Beach Program.

Photo courtesy San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation
Photo by Susan Cooper Photography

The annual Swim 24Challenge is now looking forward to its fourth annual event in 2017. While competitive swimmers are used to being in the pool before the sun is even up, noncompetitive swimmers are also accepting the challenge to take part in saving lives.

Farr says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

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