(See Video Below)
"I have always loved the water," shared Craig Dietz, who recently completed a 4.4-mile swim in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim in about 3 hours. "I even loved the kiddie pool in the backyard when I was growing up."
The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is a grueling, open-water endurance event held annually. Among the difficulties that may be encountered during the average 2.5-hour swim are flailing arms and legs from the 700 participants, cross currents, swells, chop, hypothermia if the water is cold, nettle stings if the water is warm, and collisions with the bridge supports or rocks surrounding the jetties, islands and causeways.
Now try doing it without limbs. That's what Dietz, whose congenital birth defect left him with two shoulder stubs of less than 6 inches each and a right leg stub approximately 12 inches long, did.
Dietz recalled camping at a state park with his family one summer when he was about 6 years old. "My siblings and I were on the beach where the water was a few feet deep and they were helping me figure out how to take my first swim without a life preserver," Dietz recalled. "There was a lifeguard at the beach and he asked me if I had ever tried a scuba flipper on my leg stub. It fit perfectly and it worked. That's how that came to be. My parents bought me one the next day."
On race day, Dietz was joined by Bobby Standish, a classmate from University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Standish rode in a boat beside Dietz throughout the whole race, offering words of encouragement. "He was very supportive and kept things light," Dietz shared. "It can get intense in the middle of the bay, but he told jokes and was cracking me up. I trust him with my life."
Dietz swims with a masters swim team near his home in Hummelstown, PA, two evenings a week. A few members of the swim team also competed in the Bay Swim.
According to Dietz, his family has always pushed him to lead a normal life. He told ADVANCE that he has never needed to look outside for sources of inspiration. "No one babied me growing up," Dietz shared. "They just encouraged me to do what I wanted. They never made me feel like I was any different than anyone else."
Next up for Dietz? He will be participating in the swim leg of the Pittsburgh Triathlon & Adventure Race as part of a relay at the end of July.
Please check back with ADVANCE in November for a cover feature story about Craig Dietz.
Here's some footage of the pool training he has done to prepare for the race: