By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
She’s at it again. After swimming across Montana’s Flathead Lake in 2010 and finishing an arduous 50-mile Lake Chelan swim the following summer, Emily von Jentzen needed a break.
Those open-water endurance tests helped the 2001 Marysville Pilchuck High School graduate raise thousands of dollars for seriously ill children. Von Jentzen, 30, is an attorney who was on swim teams in high school and at Central Washington University.
The 2011 Chelan swim took a physical and an emotional toll. Now, she’s ready to again challenge the waves and ease the troubles of another family.
“I’m waking up at 3 a.m. Sunday, and hope to be swimming by 3:30 a.m. That’s the plan,” von Jentzen said Tuesday from Kalispell, Mont., where she is an assistant attorney general with the state of Montana’s Child Protection Unit.
Her goal is to complete a 70-mile perimeter swim of Canyon Ferry Lake near Helena, Mont. She hopes to do it in about 44 hours.
“It’s a lot warmer than Chelan. I’m trying this one without a wet suit, to be eligible for a record,” she said.
In 1963, according to the World Open Water Swimming Association, an Egyptian man swam 60 miles across Lake Michigan in 34 hours, 38 minutes. Success at Canyon Ferry Lake would snag for von Jentzen the nonstop lake swim record without a wetsuit, but that’s not why she’s doing it.
This swim is all about a boy and his dog.
Donations will cover the costs of a service dog for 3-year-old Carter Hasselbach. Von Jentzen has created a nonprofit organization, the Enduring Waves Foundation, as a way to use swimming to help Carter and other children with medical issues. The foundation’s 501(c)(3) tax-exemption status is pending, she said.
Carter, who lives in Helena, has serious breathing problems and has mobility issues. Diagnosed with severe tracheomalacia and bronchial malacia, his trachea and bronchial tubes close when he breathes or coughs.
Amy Hasselbach, his mother, said Thursday that her son needs oxygen to sleep, takes a daily dose of steroids, and has bone-density deficiencies that put him at risk of fractures. He has been hospitalized nearly 50 times, and travels often to Children’s Hospital Colorado to see specialists.
He also has a loyal new friend, a standard poodle named Minnie. Von Jentzen helped the family get Minnie and arranged for service-dog training in Helena.
“We could never afford this,” Amy Hasselbach said.
Since Minnie joined the household in May, Hasselbach said her son sleeps through the night, and is comforted as he undergoes tests and other medical procedures.
“Minnie goes to the hospital with him. We have an all-access prescription. She can go on the airplane, where Carter gets severe anxiety, and she can go for blood work with Carter,” Amy Hasselbach said. “Emily is such a blessing to our family. She has given Carter a lifelong gift.”
Krissy Davis, von Jentzen’s sister, lives in Mill Creek. “She’s amazing. I’m her cheerleader,” said Davis, who was on the escort boat during her sister’s grueling 36-hour Chelan swim.
“The hard part, as her older sister, toward the end of that swim she was crying. I just wanted to pull her out. She is one tough girl, that’s for sure,” Davis said.
Davis will be back in Montana to watch this weekend’s swim, along with her daughter, a Jackson High School swimmer. A sophomore at Jackson, Hannah Davis, 14, has been swimming competitively since she was 8. She hadn’t done much lake swimming before visiting her aunt in Montana a couple weeks ago.
“I wouldn’t do it with anyone else,” Hannah said. “I did use a wetsuit. For her it’s warm, but it was pretty cold.”
Von Jentzen’s Chelan swim was daunting long after she got out of the water. She suffered some renal failure, due to pain medication she took during the swim, and from dehydration. With better training, she feels ready for Canyon Ferry.
“Going into the Chelan swim, I don’t know if I would call it naive, but I wasn’t as well prepared,” von Jentzen said. She said she didn’t quit due to “sheer stubbornness.”
More pain came weeks after she swam Chelan when 6-year-old Katelyn Roker died of cancer. Von Jentzen’s Chelan swim raised about $8,000 for the Kalispell girl’s family, and Katelyn was able to be on the boat during part of von Jentzen’s effort.
The swimmer does stay in touch with Karmyn Flanagan. The Missoula girl, who was treated for leukemia, was helped by money raised through von Jentzen’s Flathead Lake swim in 2010.
“Karmyn is doing well. She just had her sixth birthday,” von Jentzen said.
How to help
Emily von Jentzen created the Enduring Waves Foundation to raise money for children with serious health issues through open-water swimming. Proceeds from her “Carter’s Cause: 4 Paws,” an attempt to swim 70 miles in Montana’s Canyon Ferry Lake, will pay expenses for a service dog for 3-year-old Carter Hasselbach, of Helena, Mont. Learn more: www.enduringwaves.com.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.