TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A local sheriff’s deputy and Navy veteran will start swimming in Lake Travis at 8 a.m. Friday and doesn’t plan to stop until 24 hours later.
Robert Blanchard is raising money for the Lone Survivor Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit that provides therapeutic retreats for veterans and their families who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other mental health difficulties.
Friday, Blanchard will enter Lake Travis at the Tatum Cove Boat Ramp in Pace Bend Park, with nothing but three pairs of goggles, a GPS-enabled watch, and a small, inflatable buoy tied around his waist to alert boats to his presence.
He’ll swim for 24 hours, getting calories and water from a support kayak that will trail him during the fundraising effort. The kayak will also carry a wetsuit in case he gets cold during the swim, as well as a life vest in case Blanchard encounters trouble, something the deputy is already familiar with.
Blanchard joined the Navy in 2009 and started Navy Seal training the next year. During a two-mile open-water swim in the Pacific, he told KXAN Wednesday at the lake, he found himself in a tough spot.
“Started coughing a whole lot while I was in the water and realized I was coughing blood,” he said. He “got really disoriented and dropped off, and didn’t know where I was at, and actually passed out” in the water.
His swimming partner was able to inflate Blanchard’s life vest, and when they got to shore, Blanchard found out his lungs had been filling with fluid. After treatment for that and for problems related to a sting from a stingray, he was medically discharged from the Navy in 2011.
“I thought for sure once I could show them and prove to them from a doctor’s note or a physical that I was good to go, they’d let me back in,” he said. “And it wasn’t the case.”
Instead, Blanchard became a deputy with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. But, despite his ongoing public service, he still wanted to do more for his fellow vets.
“There are people that are really giving something,” he said. “I just couldn’t sit back and say that I was doing enough, honestly. I knew that I could do more.”
All the money he raises will go to support free therapeutic retreats through the Lone Survivor Foundation. Last year, the group took 335 veterans and family members on 38 retreats to help them cope with PTSD, mild TBIs, chronic pain and military sexual trauma, the nonprofit says.
But there are many more people to help.
In addition, the agency says, nearly a quarter of women who receive VA healthcare report being sexually assaulted while in the military.
Blanchard hopes to fund some retreats with the money he raises, but they’re expensive. It costs the foundation about $3,000 to send a veteran on a retreat and about $9,000 for a whole family.
He’s never done a 24-hour swim before, but he’s been training for weeks, swimming for up to 16 hours in a day. No matter how much he raises by the time he leaves the water Saturday morning, it will be worth it.
“If I can do that for just one person with one of these therapeutic retreats, with something through Lone Survivor Foundation,” he said, “then I know that I’ve done something real.”