MEMPHIS, Tenn. (NNS) -- How far could you swim in a day? 250 yards? 500 yards? A mile? Two? Fourteen miles? Imagine doing that for six months.
Now imagine coming ashore after hours and hours of swimming. What would be the first thing you did? Pose for pictures with cheering supporters? Oblige the flocking media for an interview? Would you give a hug to the woman standing by herself with tear welling in her eyes?
This is six months in the life of Navy veteran Chris Ring.
The 2015 Legacy Alive Challenge is "Swim for Their Sacrifice" where Ring will swim the length of the Mississippi River to honor fallen heroes and their families that they left behind.
Legacies Alive is a non-profit organization founded by combat veterans whose mission is to strengthen and support the Gold Star Families of our nation's fallen heroes and bring national awareness to the life and character of all service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Gold Star is the official program for families who have a service member who was killed while in service to the nation.
As he stepped onto the boat ramp, out of the Mississippi River and onto Mud Island in Memphis, he passed the crowds, waved off the bottle of water being offered to him and declined an interview to offer a hug to a woman watching the excitement unfold. She wears a Gold Star pin on her shirt for her son that was killed in Afghanistan.
Ring ignores the cameras buzzing around him and focuses intently on what she is saying. He eagerly asks questions and offers a warm smile while she discusses her son and his love for his country.
Ring began his swim on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, at the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota's Itasca State Park. His 2,552-mile journey will take about six months, with him swimming an average of 14 miles a day.
Ring plans to finish his swim in late November where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico. Once he finishes his swim he will be the first American to swim the entire Mississippi River.
"It's not about setting a record, it's about bringing awareness to our fallen heroes, and connecting as many of their families as possible," said Ring. "I think about that a lot while I'm swimming."
Karie Gilliland, who lost her husband, Chief Explosive Ordinance Technician Paul Darga on Aug. 22, 2006, in Al Anbar, Iraq, came from Southaven, Miss., to show her support.
"I came here to thank him for what he is doing here," she said. "He is recognizing the sacrifice that people have made for our freedoms and he understands the difficulties that the families have gone through."
Ring sympathized with her feelings her feelings.
"These families, they paid the ultimate sacrifice, they lost someone they loved dearly and this person, this fallen hero, they did it defending us, defending our country and our beliefs and our values," he said.
As of Oct. 19, 2015, at 1:20 p.m., Ring has been swimming for 135 days, 14 hours and 12 minutes.
"It is a big feat but the main focus is not what I'm doing but why I'm doing it," he said.
Ring is followed by a kayak which supports him during his swim. The kayak is signed by Gold Star family members all along his journey and gives him strength as he navigates the often rough and treacherous waters of the Mississippi.
In 2014, Mike Viti, Legacies Alive co-founder, hiked 4,400 miles around the perimeter of the United States and met with 65 Gold Star families as they remembered the sacrifices of those individuals and their families.
So far, Legacies Alive has raised $163,693 for families, traveled 5,795 miles for fallen heroes in their challenges and reached 526 Gold Star families.
For more information about the Navy's Gold Star program, contact NSA Mid-South's Gold Star Coordinator Larry Beigel at 901-874-5017.
For more news from Naval Support Activity, Mid-South, visit www.navy.mil/local/nsams/.