MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Less than a month after returning to full duty, recovering from a dislocated shoulder and a broken foot, Sgt. Benjamin Pryer, press chief with the Public Affairs Office, set out on a journey to complete the annual Marine Corps Birthday Swim.
The birthday swim, hosted by Marine Corps Community Services’ aquatics division, is a monthlong endeavor, from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10, to complete the number of laps that correlates to the age of the Marine Corps.
Taking on the task of swimming 239 laps in a month is a challenge within itself, but Pryer took the challenge a step further, attempting to swim all the laps on the first day.
“I’ve been aboard station for three years now and this is my third time attempting the birthday swim,” said Pryer. “I didn’t complete my previous two attempts, whether because of exercises or some other excuse, so I figured that the best way to keep from procrastinating and failing is to get it all done in one fell swoop.”
With no prior preparation and recovering from injuries, his friends and coworkers were skeptical that he would be able to complete his mission.
“When he told me about his decision to complete the birthday swim in a day, my initial reaction was to laugh,” said Sgt. Giancarlo Maragni, Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival. “Normally, a person planning on completing a swim of that distance will train for months.”
For anyone embarking on an approximately 14.8 mile swim, there are plenty of dangers, mainly fatigue, cramps, dehydration and, even though it was conducted in an indoor pool with plenty of safety measures, there is always a risk of drowning, said Maragni.
“As excited as I had been while planning for my swim, I was equally as afraid,” said Pryer. “Would my shoulder give out? Would my foot act up? Would I go belly up and blackout after swimming too much? I was unknown and scary, but I knew that if I could complete this goal, then there would be nothing I couldn’t push through.”
Pryer may not have done the recommended months of training, but in the week leading up to his swim, he did what he could to prepare physically and mentally.
“I spent the week prior making sure my body was properly fueled and in the best physical condition possible to attempt the swim,” said Pryer. “Along with preplanning, I of course got my recommended eight hours of sleep and brought enough food and water with me to last the entire day.”
During his swim, multiple people took time out of their day to bring extra food and water, check on his well-being and cheer him on.
“I made sure to visit him often during his swim,” said Maragni. “The main reason was to show a friend support and encouragement so he would know people were pulling for him and that he could finish. The water can be a beast and can demoralize anyone if they let it.”
With a determined frame of mind and friends rooting him on, Pryer became the first one to finish the 2014 Marine Corps Birthday Swim, completing all 239 laps in 11 hours and 30 minutes.
“I feel ecstatic. I set a goal and I met it, that’s what truly makes me happy about this,” said Pryer. “I have never been so close to death, yet felt so alive.”
After his completion of the swim, the once doubtful and worried friends saw his accomplishment as an inspiration.
“Him setting a goal, not quitting and completing the swim in one day is a huge testament to who he is,” said Maragni. “His decision and swim is an inspiring story that a great deal of people can learn and benefit from. I know I was inspired by his accomplishment and learned a lot about never quitting or giving up. Forget Team Jacob or team the other dude from ‘Twilight,’ it’s all about Team Pryer!”
After spending more than 11 long, grueling hours in the pool, Pryer said he encourages others to participate and use the challenge to test themselves.
“Whether you do the swim in one day, or you use the entire month, finishing it takes a level of commitment you aren’t going to find in a regular person,” said Pryer. “You’ll never know what your body and mind are capable of achieving until you push them to their limits.”