Crossing Water to Fight Fire


Photo Courtesy: Jesse O'Hara

Jesse O’Hara trains for his 21-mile swim from South Lake Tahoe to North Lake Tahoe, scheduled in summer 2020.

Clayton Coates, Editor

Just before midnight on July 29, 32-year-old Jesse O’Hara will depart South Shore Lake Tahoe on a 21-mile long-distance swim to the North Shore to raise money to support the World Wildlife Fund Australia, a nonprofit working to combat the damage caused by the relentless Australian bushfires. O’Hara will make the 10-hour voyage in the early morning hours to ensure ideal wind conditions. This will be the longest swim O’Hara has ever made, with the next closest being approximately half the distance.

“I’ve never really done anything like this before,” O’Hara said. “For me, I just wanted to challenge myself in a different way and see if I could do it. I wanted to commit to it and see where my head and my heart go when I’m swimming at night across America’s largest alpine lake.”

Jesse O’Hara Originally from Tasmania, O’Hara first became interested in long-distance swimming when he swam in a one-mile race across the Derwent River. The challenge and feeling of accomplishment that came from swimming across such a large body of water inspired him to do a big marathon swim, for example, the English Channel. Eventually, his family moved to Cairns, Australia, seeking new opportunities. O’Hara attended college in Cairns, where he participated in an exchange program with San Diego State University competing in water polo. This is also where he met his wife, who is originally from the Bay Area.

“Now, with an American wife from California, we go to Lake Tahoe every year,” O’Hara said. “So, for me, Lake Tahoe is my English Channel.”

O’Hara has already begun training by swimming 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) a week, which will eventually progress to 50-60 kilometers (31.07-37.28 miles) a week. O’Hara will also be flying into Melbourne in April to participate in an annual cold-water camp for marathon swimmers, which will be hosted by Trent Grimsey, who currently holds the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel. Once arriving in San Francisco, O’Hara plans to swim to Alcatraz to help his body climatize after the long flight from Australia.

According to the World Wildlife Fund Australia, “It is estimated that about 12 million hectares (29,652,600 acres) of Australian land have been burned. At least 32 lives have been lost and over 2,700 homes lost.” World Wildlife Fund Australia also states that “Around 1.25 billion animals have been killed across Australia to date. This includes thousands of koalas and other iconic species – such as kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras, cockatoos, and honeyeaters – burnt alive and many thousands more injured and homeless.” Thankfully, Australian residents like O’Hara are willing to make the impact that’s desperately needed.

“I’m particularly interested in supporting the damage done to our wildlife,” O’Hara said. “I thought that combining this swim with a charity fundraiser would be something that would help motivate me to train and to know that I’m also contributing to rebuilding Australia’s wildlife.”