Making a Difference by Swimming with The Longest Swim’s Ben Lecomte

March 14, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited and honored to have with us today Ben Lecomte. He’s an open water swimmer. He’s an adventurer. He’s also the founder of The Longest Swim, because Ben is going to tell you one of the greatest stories ever. Welcome to Green is Good, Ben Lecomte. BEN LECOMTE: Thank you very much for having me. It’s very exciting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Ben, you are one of the most fascinating human beings that has ever been on our show. This show is five years old. We’ve had wonderful people from around the world but truly your story, when I was reading every word of it, had my eyes as big as silver dollars and my mouth open because I’m just so in awe of your accomplishments already and also some of your dreams of what you are going to accomplish. Before we go into talking about The Longest Swim, I want you to please share with our listeners the Ben Lecomte story, what you’ve done before, what led to this moment in your life and what you’re about to do and talk a little bit about your story and your journey up until this point. BEN LECOMTE: Thank you very much for your kind words there. I was raised and born in France and my father was very much involved in my life and I had the opportunity to have parents that exposed me to many things, the environment, sports, and basically a way to find myself was to go through all the different sports or different activities that I was involved in and my father taught me how to swim in the Atlantic when I was five years old. Unfortunately, my father passed away at an early age from heart cancer. For me, that was a very important moment in my life as a young man because it gave me the opportunity and the strength to follow my passion, which was open water swimming, adventure swimming and I wanted to do something in his memory so as I was contemplating about swimming open waters and doing a swim across the Atlantic Ocean, my big focus and objective was to do it in his name and to raise money and to raise awareness for cancer research so that was my big motivation to do that at the time and then after one year finishing university and then going back to a normal life, I always knew that my passion was still there but I became a father so now that I have children and being influenced by everything that’s happened around me, I still had that passion of doing that big swim, which was becoming the longest swim in The Pacific but the objective changed. I’m looking at my kids. I’m looking at what I can do to make positive impact in their lives and in their future and really bring those moments that I had with my father. I know that the environment was very important in all the activity that we had and I want to give my kids the same opportunity that I had by making a little difference or using my passion as a way to make a little difference in the environment and creating a more sustainable world so that’s basically my main objective now with my upcoming swim is to get the attention around that issue. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s about sustainability. BEN LECOMTE: Exactly. I think that the solution is in our hands and what I mean by that is that if all the entities here in the U.S. and overseas were all more conscious about the problem and making little changes in our lives, we would make an amazing impact on the sustainability and environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we talk about The Longest Swim coming up, just quickly give a brief overview because I want our listeners to be truly amazed by your strength, not only your physical aptitude, but your mental strength that you swam from Cape Cod to France. You did the Atlantic swim and what year was this in? BEN LECOMTE: In ’98. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In ’98 so now for all of us, age is not in our favor when you’re doing superhuman feats so this is now 16 years or so later and now you’re going to do a feat that’s much greater than the Atlantic swim. BEN LECOMTE: Right. In some aspects, age is not in our favor when you talk about speed or when you talk about strength but when you talk about extreme endurance, you can become better as you age and not only that is that mind strength is much more important because it’s mind over matter. Once your body is used to doing something at the slow rate, you can do it days after days but you need to have a very strong mind to keep on doing that and I know that when we are young, we are just about instant gratification but that changes as you get older so I found out that getting older works in my favor here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing so you’re really just breaking your last record. You’re breaking the Atlantic record by now doing the longer swim across the Pacific. BEN LECOMTE: Yeah, that will be much longer and so it’s a bigger preparation and for me, it’s just a way to get the attention. Of course, in a personal way, it’s something that I like to do. It’s something that I’m passionate about but without a greater purpose, it wouldn’t mean that much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Two quick fun stories about the first swim: When you finished the first swim back in ’98, what were your first words when you landed in France? BEN LECOMTE: It was, “Never again.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m thankful and the environmental world is thankful and all of us are thankful that you’ve decided you’re going to do it again because I know you’re going to raise major awareness by doing this Pacific swim. I think when people start hearing about it, they’re going to be as amazed and our listeners today are as amazed as I am when I started learning what you’ve accomplished and what you intend to accomplish. I saw a picture of you on your knees and it wasn’t because you were weak or because you collapsed. Talk about when you got to France, why you were on your knees. BEN LECOMTE: I proposed to my wife. I thought that was the appropriate time and so we had something very unusual, which is video clips and news footage of me proposing to her. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’ll tell you what, even in all of that exhaustion and in the middle of doing one of the greatest accomplishments anyone could ever do, you still had the thoughtfulness and the romantic spirit to do something super nice. For all the men out there that are listening today, remember you can’t be too romantic and you can’t do things in too nice of a way but wow, what a way to propose to your wife, huh? BEN LECOMTE: You know, to be truthful, I asked her when I left and she was very smart in telling me, “I’ll give you my answer on the other side.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: So she really gave you no other choice than to make the right proposition at the right time? BEN LECOMTE: Exactly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, good. That was a good reason that you made it across to the other side. That is just great. For our listeners out there, we’ve got Ben Lecomte on with us today and he’s going to be doing The Longest Swim. It’s going to start hopefully, later this year, December of 2014. To learn more about his great accomplishment and what he’s intending to do, please go to www.thelongestswim.com. Ben, let’s get to some action points here. How can people get involved? When they start hearing our story and your story become something very viral, which I expect it to become, how can people and organizations get involved and support your mission of sustainability and getting the word out there that if we all make small differences, we can make big changes? BEN LECOMTE: I think there are two steps. The first step is that we are going to have a crowdfunding starting in the spring and that will be paired with eight to ten different swims that I will do across North America so to put the word out and to start some of the budget that we need for the longer swim and then after, when The Longest Swim takes place, it will be live stream so you will be able to watch my crew on board the ship or boat. We will be able to enter that on a daily basis with people on land and we will have a platform that could allow people from different countries to bring their experience and to share a story on how they are making a difference on their local level that we can share with others and we want to engage people to just think about what they do on a daily basis that can make a difference. For example, a lot of people, if they can see that in a different country, where recycling is much more important in one country than another and right now, recycling is pretty much coming in different pockets, where we don’t know much what other countries and other people are doing. I’d like to use that opportunity to look and to see what we can do and what we can adapt from a program that is successful in that other country or other part of our country and adapt it to different areas in the world but it’s a very organic way to approach the issue. JOHN SHEGERIAN: On the crowdfunding, Ben, how much money are you looking to raise and how many sponsors are you looking for? BEN LECOMTE: The sky is the limit. We have the crowdfunding that will be put out in the spring and so $1 million crowdfunding but just to take into consideration is there was a crew member on the boat. You have the boat. You have live streaming and it requires amazing connectivity and all that costs a lot of money together and along with that, we also have sponsoring that’s going to take place. We want to have a two step approach with the crowdfunding to start at the grassroots because what is important is the people’s involvement and the communication and conversation that will take place throughout the event. It’s not about finding sponsors and just swimming across with a big sign on the shoulder. It’s basically the involvement of people that is important to us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How are you preparing? If the swim is going to be starting later this year, how are you preparing physically, mentally, dietarily? How is that working? BEN LECOMTE: I’ve been preparing for the swim for the past three years so it’s working out three to five hours a day and I do different type of workout so running, bicycling, gainage, and also I do swimming, of course and I eat it, I dream it, I sleep it. It is in my mind throughout the day. When I am in the pool or when I am exercising, my thoughts are always about the swim and trying to visualize it and making it an internal journey. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is The Atlantic harder to swim than The Pacific or The Pacific harder to swim than The Atlantic? How do they compare as water bodies and what are the differences in the swim that you’re going to be facing and that you’re thinking about? BEN LECOMTE: The big difference is the distance. So, the Atlantic was about 3,500 miles. The Pacific is 5,500, but as far as the weather pattern or current, you can compare them both. They are pretty much the same. I will be swimming from the west to the east because in The Atlantic, I caught up with The Gulf Stream that took me from Tokyo away with the Kyosho, which is a long current that pushes toward the U.S. coast. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What blocks of time do you swim and then you get on the boat and eat a little something, sleep, and then go back in the water? How many hours a day? What does a typical 24-hour cycle look like for you when you’re swimming on this Longest Swim? BEN LECOMTE: The first thing I do when I wake up is to eat because I have to consume between eight- to 10,000 calories per day and I cannot take a lot of food while I am swimming so the first thing I do is eat, get ready to go in the water, and swim eight hours. During those eight hours, I only get liquid food every 20 to 30 minutes and after I finish with those eight hours, go back on the boat and the first thing I do is eat again and then sleep, wake up, eat again, and then I still try to have a full night of sleep and what happens very often is that I was so hungry that in the middle of the night, I had to wake up and eat again and then when it comes the next morning, the boat will take us back to the position where I stopped my swim the previous day and I will start back the swim there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What kind of dietary restrictions or food do you eat that keeps your stomach calm but also fuels all the cells in your body to keep going? What are you eating and drinking to be the most efficient through your body so it doesn’t upset the rest of your body when you’re facing all the other external challenges? BEN LECOMTE: That’s a very good point because one, you are swimming so you are in one position for eight hours. It doesn’t help with the digestive system and I found out that I need to stay away from any type of food that is sweet so I stay away from high glycemic index food and if it’s carb, it will be just complex carb, wheat based product and a lot of salty product and fat because also, I try to keep my insulin level pretty much unchanged. When you take sugar and it’s white, your insulin level is going to shoot up. You are going to feel good. You are going to feel the sugar rush but you are going to feel low once that sugar rush is over so I try to stay away from those roller coasters and level my insulin by just not taking any sugar, just like I was saying on the high carbs and fat and protein. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last two minutes or so but here’s just a question that sounds silly but for your sake, I’m worried. Are you worried about sharks or trash or any of that kind of stuff in your swim? Is that something that crosses your mind or your crew’s mind? BEN LECOMTE: Sharks there are so it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and I had a shark following me for five days in The Atlantic so now you have different ways to deal with it, of course. You have people looking over. You have sonar but also you have a device that you put out in the water that creates a magnetic field and sharks are very sensitive to magnetic fields so they stay away so that’s a good way to deal with it but the other part of your question was about trash so I’m going to cross The Galvich Patch and during that time, we’ll do some measurement on how much trash we can see, how much trash we can collect, and to physically show the world that whenever you don’t recycle your product properly, it’s not going to end up in your backyard. The ocean is where the piece of trash will be. Because of the water runoff, it goes into the river and the river goes into the ocean and all those are being collected in The Galvich Patch so what we do on land is very important to what we find in the ocean and how we affect the life of a sea creature. That’s an important thing that we want to address when we go there. That’s why we have the live streaming so we can bring content as we go along and engage people throughout the journey. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. Well, Ben, you’ve been an amazing guest. I want you to come back on after you’ve done the swim and talk all about it, but for our listeners out there to support Ben and to become part of the process and to become part of the solution and sponsor him, please go to www.thelongestswim.com. He’s going to have a crowdfunding event this spring and Ben, I agree and I know our listeners will agree that together we can make the world a better place and you doing this swim is going to be further proof of that. You’ve swum yourself into all of our hearts today and our souls and are truly living proof that green is good. BEN LECOMTE: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.