1. How did you get started swimming to raise money for Diabetes Youth Services?
Well, it was in 2004. I swim every day at the Defiance YMCA, and I ran across a pamphlet for DYS. I usually swim 70 laps every day, five days a week. My doctor, more as a joke really, told me if I would swim 100 laps, he’d give me $100. The first year I swam, I raised $1,700.
2. How much money have you raised during that time?
I’ve raised $77,613. This year, my goal is to raise $20,000. I’m the largest individual fundraiser in DYS history.
3. What does the money go toward?
Primarily, it goes toward sending kids to camp. There are two camps. Camp Libby in Defiance is for 12- to 17-year-olds and it is a weeklong, overnight camp. The other camp is a day camp. It’s for 5- to 11-year-olds, and it’s out in Sylvania. They do regular camp activities, and they also teach diabetes education for Type 1 diabetes.
4. How does the fundraiser work? Do people sponsor you per lap or give a certain amount?
I’m going to swim 300 laps. People know that and usually just give me a flat amount. That’s 4 1/3 miles of continuous swimming. It usually takes about four hours. After the first year or so when I started doing this, my doctor told me if I’d do 200 laps, he’d give me $200. Then a different year, he said if I’d do 300 laps, he’d give me $300. That’s the limit though. I can’t do more than 300 laps. I’m 64 years old, after all. Basically, my wife and I spend most of December, January, February and some of March working on this fundraiser. People give as little as $5, and I’ve been given up to $1,000 — whatever people want to give with a good heart, I’ll take it. This is my passion. I’m going to swim those 300 laps if it takes me all day and people know that. At the end of the swim I’m kind of tired, but it’s all worth it. If one kid learns how to manage their diabetes, then I’m happy.
5. How do people donate?
What they can do is write a check to Diabetes Youth Services and mail it to my home at 200 W. Grove St. in Continental. I send it in and DYS sends them a receipt. I’ve had people who’ve been repeat donators for 10 years because they know 100 percent of what I raise goes to DYS. DYS promised me that no kid will be turned away from camp because of money, and they haven’t. If someone knows a kid with diabetes and they can call me at 419-596-4277. I can get them hooked up with DYS immediately.
6. Do you always swim on the same day and at the same place?
I’ve always done it on Feb. 2 — that’s my birthday. I always swim it at the Defiance YMCA — well, I think one year, I swam at Ottawa, but most of the time, it’s at the Defiance YMCA.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in doing this?
I think there are a couple things. First, just swimming 300 laps — I mean swimming continuously for 4 1/3 miles is hard. The second is sometimes when I’m trying to raise money — convincing people you are for real. I mean if I just called you up and said, “Hi, I’m Don Smith and I’m swimming for DYS. Will you donate money?” You’d probably think I was a nut job.
8. Have you always been a swimmer?
I swam as a kid, but when I went back to grad school I started swimming again. I got to 70 laps, which is one mile. In the past 15 to 20 years, I’ve swam over 3,500 miles. I try to get in five miles every week.