Menke raising funds for veterans in Hudson River swim

Photo courtesy Ryan Menke/Herald Archive
Ryan Menke of Holland joined 30 former Navy SEALS in August 2019 for the Navy SEAL Hudson River Swim. Menke is participating in the swim again this year on Aug. 7.

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

In just one week, Ryan Menke of Holland will be swimming across the Hudson River.

When he participated in the first Navy SEAL Hudson River Swim in 2019 — the first sanctioned swim across the Hudson River to raise money to combat veteran homelessness — he was the only civilian surrounded by more than 30 former SEALs. Now, in the event’s third year, he’ll be among more than 200 participants, both former SEALs and other civilians.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable day,” Menke said. “It’s the highest honor to be out with those guys every year. When you’re surrounded by people who are willing to sacrifice everything for our freedom, it’s awe-inspiring. And it just breaks your heart thinking about all those that didn’t come back or came back different and continue to struggle.”

The event is organized by the GI Go Fund, a nonprofit formed by two brothers to honor their childhood friend who was killed while serving in Iraq. The organization provides assistance to all military veterans by helping them find housing, employment, education and other benefits.

This year’s swim will be especially memorable, Menke said, as it will honor the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the 10-year anniversary of Extortion 17, which resulted in the biggest loss of U.S. military life in a single incident in the Afghanistan campaign.

The event starts with a half-mile swim from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to the Statue of Liberty and continues down to Ellis Island and over to New York City’s Battery Park. It also includes a mile-run to the 9/11 Memorial and several physical challenges, including 22 pull-ups in recognition of 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.

When Menke participated in the inaugural event in 2019, he had three goals: don’t stand out, don’t die and raise more money than anyone else. That year’s event raised $200,000, enough to get 20 homeless veterans off the streets of New York City. Of that $200,000, $75,000 came from Menke. He said he couldn’t have done it without help from his coworkers at OFS, the Dubois County community and Southern Indiana as a whole.

“Really what Southern Indiana did that first year really helped sustain and make believers out of the brothers that they could take this to another level,” he said. “I think they were shocked at how patriotic this area is.”

This year, Menke is attempting to raise $100,000. As of Friday afternoon, he had raised a little more than $25,000, but he’s not giving up.

As Menke prepares to swim across the Hudson River for the third time, he’s been reflecting a lot on his first experience.

“The one thing that was palpable was their confidence, but the most surprising thing was the absolute lack of ego,” he said. “There’s so many emotions. You’re amongst giants that day. And that feeling has kind of never left. I’ve formed a lot of really close friendships since that event.”

To prepare for the event, Menke ramps up his swim training a few months before. He starts by swimming in a pond behind his house or in a local lake but eventually trains with a local swim team, too.

And he runs — a lot. This past Memorial Day, he ran a 53-mile ultramarathon from Evansville to Holland.

He’s coming into this year’s event with a stronger mindset, too.

“This all has certainly changed my life in a good way,” he said. “I set loftier goals, I’m maybe a little more resilient than I used to be ... And I think a lot of it comes from being around those guys.”

This year’s SEAL swim will be Aug. 7 and will be covered by Fox News. Those interested in donating to the cause can visit Menke’s fundraising page at https://gigo.org/hudson-river-swim/supporter/sharkbait/index.html.




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