Keris Dahlkamp has quite the conversation starter these days -- his latest goal of joining the 22 athletes on record for successfully swimming the length of Lake Tahoe.
While Dahlkamp has Iron Man triathlons under his belt, news of this estimated 15-hour aquatic feat, which will start around 2 a.m. Aug. 11, typically gets an incredulous response.
He is quick to reply, sharing his own relatively recent awareness of the level of genocide, pillaging and rape of people in the Congo, and his ensuing idea to promote his 22-mile swim as a means to educate others about the humanitarian crisis. Dahlkamp also is inviting swimmers to join him for any length of the lake they can muster.
Kambale Musavuli calls himself "one of the lucky ones," who managed to immigrate to the United States in 1998. A spokesman for Friends of the Congo now likens himself to "one of the Freedom Riders," traveling from city to city throughout the U.S. to generate support for the organization's Congo Connect Youth Initiative Project.
While the Congo native had heard of many kindhearted means to speak out against the atrocities during his travels, and while he says that "there's no small action," nothing has matched Dahlkamp's challenge.
"I've never heard of anyone swimming 22 miles for the Congo. This tops everything I've heard before ... He's here in America and he's saying I'm going to use my talent and speak for these voices. Sometimes it can feel very hopeless,
During the laudable swim, Dahlkamp, a former Martinez resident who recently moved to Canyon, will measure his progress in micro milestones.
"(I'll) look forward to treats, to my next feeding. I'll look forward to the sunrise, to seeing family and friends come out on the boat. It helps to have people watching and supporting you. It gives you a lift," he says. "This is just one day for me."
Dahlkamp's family already is well on board.
When Musavuli stayed with them in April, while speaking at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, Dahlkamp's 4-year-old daughter choreographed the Kambale Dance. And she and her 6-year-old brother passed out educational fliers.
"They're excited about raising awareness. We've told them that there are people being killed and we need to do something about it," says Dahlkamp. "We want them to have that example. We all want to look back at our lives and know that we did something meaningful ... They know (the swim) is a long way, but I don't think they grasp the distance."
The senior program director for the YMCA in Pleasant Hill knows the beneficial training regimen he should follow, and he is swimming 90 minutes daily, with more rigorous weekend sessions.
Dahlkamp, a vegetarian, eats mostly organic food, trace amounts of sugar, consumes high amounts of carbohydrates during the day, and abstains from alcohol.
And when it comes to pacing and support, his friend and co-worker Mike Sapiro of Martinez will be swimming right alongside Dahlkamp -- who'll be clad in his yellow swim cap and a wetsuit -- for a chunk of the time.
He will be keeping a watchful eye out for any signs of hypothermia in the pre-dawn hours, of slowing down, or fatigue, before getting back into the boat, navigated by GPS, that will accompany Dahlkamp the rest of the way.
Dahlkamp and Sapiro had a practice run this past weekend, swimming the width of Lake Tahoe -- something Dahlkamp had done in 2005 to raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation.
This last, nearly eight-hour time spent in the water included a baked potato break after the initial hour, frequent breaks for sips of hot ginger tea, and swimming into the waves during a gusty patch.
"It's about endurance, but (he's) also being mentally challenged," says Sapiro. "He's getting his inspiration from their tenacity. This doesn't even touch the struggle the Congolese are facing."
For those interested in joining Dahlkamp for the swim event Aug. 11, call 925-812-2496. For more information about Friends of the Congo, visit www.friendsofthecongo.org.