Endurance athlete Rob DeCou swims 31 miles in harsh conditions to help end human trafficking
Story By Shanee Edwards | Photos courtesy of Rob DeCou
Local resident Rob DeCou is a father of two and an executive producer at Lux Virtual, a digital animation studio. He’s also a fanatic when it comes to ultra-endurance sports, an obsession that started in high school. At 16 years old, when DeCou was a Rotary exchange student in India, he surprised himself by completing a 50-hour nonstop aerobics event. After that, pushing his body to the max while raising money for a good cause became his thing.
On July 20, DeCou took on a challenge fit for a real-life Aquaman — an open-water swim from Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, up the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and into Canada — all to raise money to prevent human trafficking.
But what was supposed to be an 18.3 mile swim became a 31-mile swim due to heavy currents that continued to blow him off course. Immediately after the 15-hour water odyssey, DeCou posted this on his Facebook page: “I made it within 670 feet of Canadian shore before the currents swept me back. It took a few minutes of talking to the crew and we made a decision to pull out for safety reasons. I can’t thank all the supporters and our crew enough. It was an incredible day, and I felt like my body and my crew performed outstanding.”
Working with Rotary International District 5280 Charitable Foundation — which includes the Rotary Club of Playa Venice Sunrise, of which DeCou is a member, as well as the Westchester Rotary Club — this epic swim was part of a two-year fundraising campaign supporting efforts to prevent human trafficking. As of July 21, this swim raised nearly $10,000, with donations still coming in.
A few days before his aquatic adventure, DeCou told Playa Vista Direct he chose an ocean swim because he wanted to challenge himself.
“I’ve never been that comfortable in the water because I’m not a great swimmer,” he said, “so I thought it would be good to go after something that’s not in my natural skill set area and spend a year training for it.”
DeCou has numerous extreme sports events under his belt, including Race Across America — a 3,000-mile, 12-day cycling race in which he slept only about 20 hours in total but raised $20,000 for brain cancer research. He says finishing an ultra event feels a lot different than you might think.
“With a shorter event, you finish and there’s a pride that goes with it. With ultras it’s more like, ‘Thank God I’m done and got through that!’ It’s also more of a humble feeling than a prideful feeling, so I mostly just feel grateful to pass through the experience. So much is outside of your control, and you have this whole crew that helps you get through it.”
For his swim to Canada, DeCou’s seven-person crew included a safety monitor, two boat captains on separate boats, a swim observer, a videographer, his wife Kristin, and his 13-year old niece Madison. Madison was the “feeder” in charge of handing him food like cantaloupe, bananas with peanut butter, and a hot Cup O’ Noodles every 30 minutes.
The water this time of year is typically 53 or 54 degrees Fahrenheit, and swollen lips and mouth from the high salt levels in the water can make it difficult to get the 300 calories per hour needed to sustain this type of rigorous physical activity.
If it all sounds extreme, DeCou admits it is. But he thinks it’s worth it bring the community together and fight for a good cause.
“One of the powerful things about each of these events I’ve done is you connect with other like-minded people who are doing positive things for the environment or for the community around us. In this case it’s human trafficking prevention. The money raised will go to a lot of programs right here in the Los Angeles area.”
Find the fundraising page for Rob DeCou’s Swim to End Human Trafficking at facebook.com/rob.decou.1.