Meet Shoestring Warrior and Retired Commercial Fleet Vehicle Finance Manager Richard ‘Dix’ Gardner

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Sometimes in life we are faced with challenges. Challenges that ground us and make us re-evaluate what is important and what makes us happy. Sometimes those challenges are fleeting and sometimes they are permanent and give us a different outlook on life. This week’s Shoestring Warrior is no stranger to life’s challenges, yet he has found a way to truly embrace life and to inspire others to do the same. Meet Shoestring Warrior and Retired Commercial Fleet Vehicle Finance Manager, Richard “Dix” Gardner.

Dix has been living with Type-1 Diabetes since he was 11 years old and in 2001, at the age of 44, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic and unpredictable disease that attacks the central nervous system. Dix has always enjoyed swimming, skiing, mountain biking, and other sports and has a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors, especially the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Fortunately, through swimming, Dix is able to remain active and to connect with nature.

What I have learned through all of this is that every day truly does matter, now more than ever. As one door closes another one opens. This was my opportunity to become the advocate for MS I vowed to become the day I first learned of my MS. While the challenges MS has saddled me with will always be a part of my life, my commitment remains the same to continually focus on improving upon the quality of my life and lives of others living with MS.

Dix created the When I Swim Foundation and aims to increase worldwide awareness of MS through his open water swims across lakes in the Sierras and to fund MS research and quality of life programs. Dix’s determination and passion for swimming and nature are truly inspiring! Keep reading to learn more about what Dix enjoys most about open water swimming, why he decided to start the foundation, and how you can support him. Learn more about his foundation through his Facebook page and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Hometown:

Whittier, CA

Current Location:

Whittier, CA

Profession:

Retired Commercial Fleet Vehicle Finance Manager

Shoestring Warrior: Richard ‘Dix’ Gardner

What are your passions outside of work?

I have always had a passion for swimming or any activity that involves water. Whether it be swimming at my local long course Olympic pool, swimming in the ocean, or swimming in a lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it is what I look forward to. Swimming is one of the few physical activities that I am still able to do, and I do it well!

Tell us about yourself

I am a 57 year old father of two caring and loving children. Cameron, an outdoor and lifestyle photographer and my beautiful and loving daughter Maggie a recent High School grad. A simple man who has been living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for 17 years, diagnosed in 2001. I have also been living with Type-1 Diabetes since I was 14 years of age (44 years).

Living with MS has been increasingly challenging over the years, robbing me of being able to participate and enjoy so many activities of my past. Prior to being diagnosed with MS I was an avid thrill-seeking snow skier and a strong and fearless mountain biker. I enjoyed running, hiking, camping, cycling, and surfing. I even played a good game of golf and tennis. It was my passion and love of participating in these activities that made me who I am today. In-light of all that has happened and physical limitations laid upon me, I am thankful for all the life experiences I have been blessed with and so thoroughly continue to enjoy life and the great outdoors.

MS has significantly changed my life in so many ways, yet I am still compelled to wake up every morning, no matter how poorly I may feel, with a smile on my face and a positive and optimistic view of the world and life itself.

What I have learned through all of this is that every day truly does matter, now more than ever. As one door closes another one opens. This was my opportunity to become the advocate for MS I vowed to become the day I first learned of my MS. While the challenges MS has saddled me with will always be a part of my life, my commitment remains the same to continually focus on improving upon the quality of my life and lives of others living with MS.

When did you first discover your love of swimming?

I often refer to myself as a water baby. I first learned to swim when I was two. We were fortunate to have a pool in our yard growing up. By the age of six I was swimming competitively for the local amateur athletic club, AAU. This is where I met Clem, one of my closest childhood friends. Clem and I went on to swim and play water polo together from that age on throughout high school. Clem has been a great friend over the years, and has always been there to support me in all of my swims, paddling alongside me and encouraging me along the way from start to finish.

What Inspired you to start the When I Swim Foundation?

It was June 4, 2014 my nephew’s wedding. I found myself standing on the view deck of June Mountain Ski Resort. Overlooking the crystal blue waters of June and Gull Lakes, that’s when I said to myself, “I want to swim those lakes”. The following day I decided to take the longer scenic way home driving through Yosemite National Park via Highway 120. The highest vehicle mountain pass in California at over 9,000′ elevation. After driving two hours in the Sierra mountain pass, we rounded a corner and came upon the snow-fed Tenaya Lake.  A majestic high mountain lake situated at the base of glacier carved granite mountains rising up 14,000′ into the sky. Again, looking over Tenaya Lake I said to myself. “I want to swim that lake”. Could there be a theme here? There are hundreds of lakes throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains of all sizes and at all elevations. Some accessible by car and others only by foot or horseback. I grew up backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, enjoying countless days on the trail and nights sleeping under the stars prior to being physically challenged with MS.

I had found my way back into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Swimming lakes throughout the Sierras was my ticket, enabling me to interact and experience all of the joys and wonders of the Sierra Nevada Mountains once again – All the while bringing about the much needed Worldwide Awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. Sierra Nevada Open Water 4 MS” was born.

You recently swam across Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevadas. What do you enjoy most about open water swimming?

Yes, I did swim the length of Huntington Lake on July 14, 2018. What I enjoy most about open water swimming is my swims bringing me and my closet friends/support group together in the Sierras for what is always a wonderful adventure full of laughs and priceless memories.

When I swim in the open water, “I am at one with myself and at one with the world”. I love being back in the Sierra Nevada Mountains amongst family and friends, swimming the length of a high-altitude lake, few if any have every swam the length of before or ever will after.

Stopping somewhere in the middle of the swim in the middle of the lake looking out 360 degrees in every direction at soaring pine tree lined shores, rocky beaches, hidden sandy coves, and the grandeur views of distant glacier carved granite domes and mountains. After taking it all in, I put my head back down and continued on.

The lake water, fed from the melted snows of the mountains above chills my face. Nothing Else Matters by Metallica starts playing on my FINIS Duo Underwater MP3 player. I am swimming again, stroking arm over arm, time and time again, when I find myself back in the zone, lost in mindless thought, beauty, and utter tranquility. I adjust the depth of my breathing to compensate for the high altitude, and increase my stroke cadence as I head for the finish, knowing I am more than half way home – Nothing Else Matters.

What is your most memorable swim and why has it had such an impact on you?

Hands down, my most memorable swim was my first open water swim in the summer of 1971 at the age of 10, when I swam Bass Lake for the first time.

In the summers of 1971–1974 my parents shipped me off to Skylake Yosemite Camp for a month. I guess they needed an extended break from my ADHD tendencies. Those summers at camp are some of my fondest memories as a youth. Skylake Yosemite Camp is ideally situated at the South-East end of the Bass Lake. As the name implies the camp is just a short distance outside of Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This where I fell in love with the Sierras and backpacking. The camp provided me with the opportunity to hike, backpack, and explore the Sierras at a young age, which I am forever grateful. Climbing Half Dome in 1972, Post Peak 11,008’, Mt Dana 13,061’, Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Chain Lakes, among many other hiking and backing adventures throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

It was at Skylake Yosemite Camp that I jumped at the opportunity to swim the length of Bass lake. First I had to qualify by waking up early one morning and swimming the width of the lake and back, approximately one mile in under 45 minutes. My older sister and I both qualified for the swim. All campers who would be swimming the lake in the early morning hours had tied a towel on the end of our sleeping cots the night prior to the swim. The camp counselors circled the cots at 2:00 AM waking the would-be swimmers rounding us up for the swim. I remember it well, walking slowly into the water at the North end of the lake at 3:00 AM my feet sinking up to my ankles in silt and marsh reeds running between my toes up to my knees. We were off, the chosen few swimming the length of Bass Lake a distance of 5 miles. Each swimmer had the support and safety of a canoe team to watch over us and feed us Hershey’s bars and give us Tang to drink.

The best memory of all, which I still treasure today was being out in the middle of the Bass lake in black of night, in the middle of the Sierras Mountains while floating on my back and looking up into the star filled sky. The stars and constellations so numerous and crystal clear you could almost touch them, all the while a flood of shooting stars sped across and lit up the Sierra skies.

My sister finished the swim first with another camper, and well, I finished last in just over 3 hours. I swam Bass Lake for the second time again with the camp in 1972. I am the youngest swimmer to have swum the length of the lake to-date.

How can people support you and your foundation?

Good question! Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic and unpredictable disease of the central nervous system (CNS) brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Where the autoimmune system is mistakenly attacking the CNS, thus causing lesions and scarring affecting the communicative pathways, resulting in a number of symptoms and individual challenges including balance and mobility, vision problems, speech and cognitive issues, bladder and bowel issues, and a slew of other symptoms not always visibly apparent to others.

Over 1 million people have Multiple Sclerosis in the United States and over 2.3 million have MS worldwide. With so many people living with MS, so few know anything about MS.

The key focus of ‘When I Swim Foundation’ is to bring about universal awareness of MS and to generate funds supporting MS research and quality of life programs and services for those living with MS such as myself.

I ask of all of you to please take a moment to visit my website, there you will learn more about me, MS, and my mission to Raise MS Awareness through open water swimming, specifically lakes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There you can sign up for my shout-outs and follow me and learn about my upcoming swims. You and others will have the opportunity to join and support me and donate with each Lake I Swim.

I and the foundation can and will always benefit from more followers on my social media platforms! Follow me and pass on the good word about ‘Sierra Nevada Open Water 4MS’ / ‘When I Swim Foundation’!

Thanks for helping me spread the word and bringing about much-needed MS Awareness.

What advice do you have for people whose lives have been personally touched by MS?

In no particular order, after living with MS and the multitude of challenges it can present one with, I recommend the following:

  • Be kind and forgiving to yourself.
  • Seek the care of a Neurologist Specializing in MS.
  • Be your own best advocate – When it comes to your overall care.
  • Don’t expect others to always understand.
  • Diet is important, Med’s are too – Be complaint to both.
  • Let others help you – You are doing something for them.
  • Find a support group – Best thing I ever did. They get it.
  • Stay informed and current –  MSAA, NMSS, Pharm Co Events.
  • Feel free to reach out me.
  • Share my story and Hope for a Cure.

Funniest outdoor experience/mishap?

The first thing that always comes to mind and still gets me laughing is the time me and two of my good friends were on a three-day hike from Tuolumne Meadows down to Yosemite Valley floor. It was our first day out stopping at Booth Lake about 6-miles from the trail head. We had found a great spot to set up camp on a small knoll at the far end of the lake overlooking the water. We had gotten into camp late, quickly setting up our bedding and preparing dinner. It was dark by the time we finished eating and stringing our food up from a high branch of a tree away from camp (no bear containers back in the day). Then we were sitting around a small fire when we noticed the moon rising above Mt. Lyell and Booth lake. We walked over and sat on top of a big boulder rising out of the lake and over the water below, enjoying the rising full moon and a little 420, when we heard something in camp behind us. The three of us stood up quickly looking back at camp, and God almighty our worst nightmare had come true. A black bear, a big black bear standing on his hind two legs at over 10 feet tall looking at us straight in the eyes, he stood only a mere 25 feet in front of us with only a long drop into Booth Lake behind us, we had nowhere to go. It was as if time was standing still as the bear bent over and grabbed Craig’s backpack and then disappeared over a log and down the knoll. Still in utter shock, Craig frantically looks at me and Ric and says “He’s got my pack!” Ric and I looked at each other, and then we both looked at Craig and in unison said “I’m not getting it!”

We did retrieve Craig’s pack later just a short way down the knoll. One pocket had been completely torn off and we found two peanuts resting in the bottom of it. The next day we were informed by a passing ranger that the bear we met that night was known to be the largest in the park.

Which athletes, adventurers, or explores inspire you most?

  • Adventurer: Sir Edmund Hillary immediately comes to mind. The first with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay to summit Mount Everest. A pioneer, an outdoor enthusiast, a true and everlasting inspiration to all.
  • Athlete: I am also greatly inspired by Michael Phelps and his unparalleled accomplishments and universal successes in swimming. (a swimmer – go figure).
  • Explorer: Hands down to Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. Armstrong to be the first man to walk on the moon, Aldrin joining him 6 hours later, while Collins manned the Columbia in lunar orbit while the two men explored the moon’s surface.

I am also inspired by all those who look at a mountain and say, “I want to climb it”.  All those who look at a river and say, “I want to raft/kayak it”. All those who look at a single-track and say, “I want to ride it”. All those who look at a snow covered shoot in Chamonix and say, “I want to ski it”. All those who look at the date of the next Ironman in Hawaii and say, “I want do it”. All those who look at a lake and say, “I want to swim”.

What is your next adventure?

I will be swimming in the annual San Diego to Coronado Island ‘Shark Fest Swim’ on October 14, 2018. I have swum in this event for the past four years with my swim and water polo friend, Randy from high school. Several of my good friends and past swim and water polo buddies always show up to give us their support. Everyone is always welcome to jump in the water and swim with us.

Come next June of 2019, I will be setting out to swim June and Gull Lakes  in the Eastern Sierras. Then in July of 2019 I aim at swimming Thomas Edison Lake in the Western Sierras Nevada Mountains 4.5-miles / 7,600’ elevation.

Hoping to be swimming in Los Alamitos Bay and around Naples Island a few times this Winter and Spring. I am also hoping to try adaptive snow skiing this year. I’m ready to shred again!

The perfect s’more?

Who doesn’t love s’mores? But, if you have never had a campfire banana boat you don’t know what you are missing. I first learned of my love of banana boats on San Clemente State Beach just down the way from T-Street where I first learned to surf. My childhood friend’s dad and our little league coach introduced us to them at a team beach party. Great man and coach making a lasting and positive impression in my life. One day before our game he said, “if you win this game today, I will take you to the beach, and if you lose today, I will still take you to the beach”. He made the game and life fun.

It is very easy to prepare a banana boat, just peel back the underside (curved side) of a banana down exposing the fruit. With a table knife slice the banana across multiple times from top to bottom. Now break up a Hershey’s chocolate bar into squares and insert them in between the banana slices. Add a few small marshmallows. Fold over the banana peel and wrap in foil. Now place your banana boat in the coals and cook to mouthwatering perfection.

For those of you who really want a treat, try pouring some fine bourbon over the top before eating!

Photos © 2018 Cameron Gardner



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