John Derr At 50, 60, 70 And Beyond

Courtesy of Sandy Pickering Drake, Maui Channel from Lanai to Maui, State of Hawaii.

John Derr wrote the most inspirational application to Maui Channel Swim director Ian Emberson on July 9th 2019.

The 48th Maui Channel Swim (Bob Roper Memorial Swim) is a 15.2 km channel crossing between the Club Lanai Pier on the island of Lanai and Black Rock in Kaanapali on the island of Maui. Derr completed the swim in 5 hours 56 minutes in yesterday’s event.

Race referee Sandy Drake recalls the finish of the long-time swimmer from Ventura County Masters Swim Team, “Today at the Maui Channel Swim, we had the worst currents in the 48 years of the swim. This man, age 70, did it solo just under 6 hours. There were about 5 of us left at the finish. It was just about to be 6 hours into the swim. I see him kinda jogging up the beach. His daughter and wife greeted him. His wife turned to us and said, “They said he was going to die. But he showed them.” She turned with tears in her eyes. We all stood up and applauded him. I couldn’t stop smiling.”

His letter to Emberson read as follows,

Ian,

I wanted to write you a short letter explaining why I’m entering the Maui Channel Swim.

When I turned 50 years old, I swam the Maui Channel as a solo swimmer.

When I turned 60 years old, I swam the Maui Channel as a solo swimmer.

My dream was to again swim the Channel when I turned 70.

However, on my 65th birthday, I was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer and underwent three surgeries and 6 months of chemo. Gall bladder cancer is extremely rare and I was told I would not survive. I did survive, but one year later I got pancreatic cancer and had surgery to remove most of my pancreas followed by aggressive chemotherapy (I was given 4 different chemo treatments at the same time). I was again told I probably wouldn’t survive.

My odds of surviving both cancers were around a million to one – but my attitude was that someone had to be the one, so it might as well be me.

I didn’t swim for three years, but began swimming again two years ago. A few months ago, I thought of my dream to swim the Channel at age 70 and began swimming with our team’s distance group to see if I could do it.

I put off mailing in my entry until I felt confident I could finish. I believe I can. To me it will be an affirmation that I survived and am still alive and that I can again do the impossible.

I wanted you to know how much I appreciate all the work you do to put on this swim and how much it has affected me over the years. I look forward to seeing you again this year and doing the impossible one more time.

Sincerely,
John Derr


Drake reported, “There were 40 entries in the Maui Channel Swim that included 35 relays and 5 solo swimmers. One team abandoned the race because they were pushed heading to Napili. John finished 38th overall, ahead of one relay.”

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