Menke to join SEALs in ‘epic’ Hudson River swimJuly 11, 2019
By LEANN BURKE
On Aug. 3, a group of about 30 former Navy SEALs will swim the first, legally-sanctioned swim across the Hudson River in New York City to raise money to combat veteran homelessness. Although not a Navy SEAL, local man Ryan Menke will be among them.
The event will start with participants swimming half a mile from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to the Statue of Liberty, where they will climb out of the water to complete a pushup and pullup challenge. Then, it’s back in the water to swim another half mile to Ellis Island for more pushups and pullups. The next stop is New York City’s Battery Park, a little more than a mile across the water from Ellis Island, where the participants will climb out of the water and run a mile to America’s Response Monument and 9/11 Memorial where they will finish the challenge with more pushups and pullups.
The message Menke has gotten from the event organizers, who are former SEALs, is that the event will be “epic,” and everyone should train hard.
“I have no idea what it means when a Navy SEAL says it’s going to be an epic swim and to train hard,” Menke said.
To prepare, he’s been training as hard as he can and consulting with his friend and mentor Shannon Rusch, a Navy SEAL turned consultant and public speaker. Rusch is also the founder of SEAL Swim Charities, an organization that aids suicidal veterans.
Menke, who is senior vice president of sales and marketing at OFS Brands, first met Rusch a few years ago when OFS was looking for a keynote speaker for the roll out of its new company identity and vision for the future. A friend of Menke’s suggested Rusch, and the speaker turned out to be the perfect fit.
“His story is probably one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard,” Menke said of Rusch.
Since then, Menke and Rusch have become good friends, with Rusch helping Menke define his three most important priorities: family, friendships and fitness.
That last one led Menke to wanting to participate in the Hudson River swim.
“The opportunity to play some small part in paying back our veterans is a big one for me and for our family,” Menke said.
Menke’s great uncle and both of his grandfathers fought in World War II, and a cousin was a C-17 captain in the Middle East, Menke said. Their stories ignited Menke’s passion for veterans.
Menke still remembers when he called Rusch to see if he could participate in the swim. The conversation was short, with Menke asking Rusch if he thought a ginger from Dubois County could complete the challenge.
Rusch turned it back on Menke, asking him if he thought he could do it. When Menke said yes, Rusch made a call. Not long after that, Rusch called Menke back to tell him he was in. Menke recalled asking Rusch what he said to convince the organizers to let him participate. Rusch’s answer: “I told them you wouldn’t die.”
The months since that phone call have been filled with hours of training, including workouts with an OFS fitness group and swims in the pond in his and his wife Kimberly’s Holland backyard, while their kids — Ella Cate, 6, Porter, 3, and Weston, 2 — watch from the bank.
Both the fitness group and his kids have helped him get through the tough workouts, Menke said.
“It gets really, really boring when all you can see is a foot in front of you for hours,” Menke said of the four hours he spends swimming each week. “But when you look at the shore and see [the kids], it’s inspiring.”
Ella Cate will attend the event in New York City and plans to do the pushups with Menke at the 9/11 Memorial.
Another way Menke has powered through the training is with a bit of humor. When he talks about participating in the event, he says it’ll be 30 Navy SEALs swimming with a ginger civilian trailing them. He’s also gotten the nickname Shark Bait, inspired by his Midwestern fear of sharks.
“When things get tough, if you can make it fun, it helps you get through the increments,” Menke said.
But he’s not taking the event or his participation in it lightly. In addition to training hard, he’s fundraising hard, too. His initial goal was to raise $10,000 for the GI Go Fund. When he reached that goal, he raised the goal to $30,000. Then, when he hit $30,000 recently — a feat he attributes to community support from both the Dubois County community and the OFS nationwide community — he raised the goal to $50,000. If he hits that, he’s raising it to $100,000.
As of this morning, Menke had raised more than $34,000, enough to get three homeless veterans off the street.
Menke said the fundraising is the least he can do in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the event, which he described as “a bucket list item that’s great for the life resume.”
“I’ve not earned the right to be there like these other guys have,” Menke said of swimming with the SEALs. “The only way I can say thank you is by raising as much money as I possibly can.”
He also wants to make civilians more aware of the challenges veterans face when they come from the war and try to integrate back into civilian life.
“Just because they came home doesn’t mean they left the war behind,” Menke said.
You can donate to Menke’s GI Go page here.
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