Athletes Scale Peaks, Swim Seas to Raise Funds for Clean Oceans, Water

Mitigating damage from environmental problems is a daunting task, especially considering the scope of the project: The United Nations estimated in 2010 that environmental damage cost $6.6 trillion per year. Despite the great costs, as well as the depth of human and animal suffering, the sheer size of the problems can leave those in a position to do a little something about it feeling paralyzed.

But for those used to taking on the Earth’s biggest challenges – literally oceans and mountains – pursuing relief after such disasters is all in a day’s work.

Jake Norton has been climbing mountains since he was 12. Spurred on by the thrill of besting his past performance, he’s climbed Mount Everest not once but three times, and has checked off three of the other “Seven Summits” – mounts McKinley, Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro.

His passion for mountain climbing has taken him around the world, an experience, he said, made him realize just what a fluke it was that he was able to live a comfortable life.

“Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to these great places and see people whose lot in life is nowhere near as fortunate as mine,” he said. “But these people are no less hardworking than I am, no less intelligent, no less determined. But the difference in their lives in mine is simply by geography.”

He said he felt that, because of the advantages he had, he has a duty to do everything he can to give back and to help other people around the world to have the chance to a better life.

“My passion has always been climbing. It’s the vehicle that has allowed me to see so much of the world, and I see this as the vehicle that hopefully will allow me to change the world and impact the world,” he said.

And so Norton is using his next climbing exploit – a pursuit of each continent’s third-highest peak, which can often be more difficult to summit than the highest peak – to raise $2.1 million for Water for People. He’s also hoping to engage 2.1 million people in the issues of sufficient water and sanitation.

“I see development as being similar to climbing a mountain – you have to start at a foundational base level. You start at base camp. There’s a ton of logistics between you and the summit, and you can’t start out with only a plan for the summit – there’s a lot between you and the summit so it doesn’t help you get up the mountain.”

Clean water, Norton said, is that foundation. Efforts to procure it prevent girls, in particular, from going to school, and waterborne diseases can bring death even before children are even old enough to get an education. Clean water can make everything else possible.

Jen Schumacher knows a thing or two about clean water. The open-water swimmer is taking on the aqueous equivalent of the Seven Summits, the Oceans Seven challenge, which consists of seven of the world’s most challenging channel swims.

A lifelong competitive swimmer, she started ocean swimming just in the last few years, after watching a friend compete in the Catalina Channel Swim, between the mainland of her native California and Catalina Island.

She said she’s grown to enjoy the swims, even though they can take more than 20 hours to complete and require that she practice 20 to 30 hours a week.

“I just love the variety of conditions and not just the types of bodies of water, but the conditions can change so much, and that’s fun for me,” Schumacher said. “I love seeing all the wildlife out there. Even though sometimes that’s kind of scary, I’m always in awe of it.”

This respect for the oceans and their inhabitants has prompted her to use her pursuit of the Ocean’s Seven to raise funds for the 3rd Millennium Foundation.

“Sadly, I see on a firsthand basis a lot of the pollution we’re causing in the ocean,” Schumacher said. “I get to experience being around these creatures – dolphins, whales, sea turtles – and so it’s important to me that the organization I support also supports the oceans.”

Schumacher said she picked 3rd Millennium Foundation because ocean pollution is a global issue, and the organization has a global focus in attempting to mitigate the problem. “They understand that this is a global problem and we all have to work together. It needs to be a global effort, where everyone’s working together on this challenge.”

Norton similarly prized Water for People’s efforts to work globally. “Their model is the best in the sector. It’s focused solely on partnerships and long-term sustainability and accountability, which makes it unique,” he said.

“Of course we want to raise that 2.1 million, but more important is engaging 2.1 million people,” Norton said. “At end of day, I think we’d be happier with getting 2.1 million people passionate about and engaged with sanitation crisis, versus having one person engaged and raising all the money.”

About the Author

Laura Williams is a content editor for Environmental Protection. She can be reached at