CASCO — Character, mental toughness and discipline are the traits four Navy SEALs will use to swim 13 miles in Sebago Lake on Thursday morning to raise awareness and funds for Camp Sunshine.

The goal of SEALs for Sunshine is to raise $80,000 to bring 40 military families to a Camp Sunshine session in 2015.

Founded in 1984, the camp serves children with life-threatening illnesses and their families from around the world. Services are free and include 24-hour medical and psychosocial support and private family suites, paid for with donations and supported by a staff of 80-plus volunteers and paid staff.

“It’s about community,” said Cmdr. Mike W. of Virginia, whose family lives in nearby Windham.

He, along with fellow SEALs Lt. Lew E., originally from Westbrook, Lt. Cmdr. Chad K., originally from Illinois, and Lt. Matt S., originally from Pennsylvania, will enter the lake at the Veterans Memorial Park on Route 302 in Raymond at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

Mike W. drove with his wife, Emily, from their home in Virginia to his family’s home in Windham earlier this week. The other three SEALs are flying in from California and Florida for Thursday’s swim and Friday’s gala dinner at the camp. All have been training in pools, lakes and oceans. The Sebago Lake swim is six miles longer than what they train for as SEALs.

From their starting point, they will swim past Frye Island and into the Point Sebago Resort in Casco in about 6½ hours. Among the onlookers waiting to welcome them will be Camp Sunshine children waving banners they made.

“Is 13 miles a big deal? Well, we’ll find out Thursday if it’s a big deal,” Mike W. chuckled. “The more energy and motivation they (onlookers) can give us, the better it will be.”

The 39-year-old said he was struggling with how to do something for the community, to give something back.

Aware of Camp Sunshine’s work and its proximity to the lake, Mike W. said the swim is a way to give back. He called fellow SEAL and Mainer, Lt. Lew E., and eventually got two other SEALs to sign on to the mission.

The SEALs slogan is “The only easy day was yesterday,” and Mike W. said Camp Sunshine families can identify.

“We make it through yesterday, but tomorrow we may not make it through,” he said. “You’re as ready as you can be. You don’t get three months. You just have to deal with it as it happens.”

On Friday the SEALs will be honored at a gala fundraising dinner at Camp Sunshine and will address dinner guests. Retired Navy SEAL Justin Legg, 36, of Maryland, a cancer and double lung transplant survivor, will be guest speaker.

Legg was in Iraq eight years ago when he was diagnosed with leukemia. After many rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a bone marrow transplant rejection, both lungs collapsed and he slipped into a coma in the summer of 2010.

He breathes with the lungs of his 19-year-old donor, Jarred McKinley Carter. He has run several half-marathons and climbed halfway up Mount McKinley in Alaska to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He established the society’s Jarred McKinley Carter Research Project to honor Carter.

“You must do something to improve yourself each day,” Legg wrote in his blog after his lung transplant. “That doesn’t mean just doing what is required. That means stretch your limits a little bit farther than the day before.”

Mike W. said Legg’s appearance ties in perfectly with the SEALs’ mission for Camp Sunshine.

Mike W. has been a SEAL for 16 years. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 1998 with what he called “unlimited options,” but met a group of Navy SEALs, who captured his interest.

“I just wanted to be around them. These people, they inspire you. It worked out,” he said.

The highly trained teams conduct some of the nation’s most important missions, according to their website. Mike W. has been to India, Iraq, Afghanistan and Asia during seven deployments. He has also served as an assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is assigned to the Pentagon.

But Maine is still home.

His mother, Liz , is a psychiatric nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and his father, Gordon, is retired from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His grandmother and many cousins live in Windham.

“We travel around the whole world, but nothing takes the place of a small town,” he said.”They look after one another. You just don’t get that in (Washington) D.C. That’s why this place feels so much like home. This is the only place that is home.”

Donations to the Seals for Sunshine fund can be made at the website,
www.sealsforsunshine.org.

[email protected]


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