GRAND PRAIRIE -- Almost 40 years later, Grand Prairie resident Ben Lecomte still recalls learning to swim off the southwestern coast of his native France and developing a yearning for the open water at age 5.During those happy, sunlit hours, his father's hands held him steady at the water's surface, matching the Atlantic tide wave for wave and cementing an everlasting bond between boy and man, boy and ocean.Lecomte honored those bonds in 1998 when he became the first person credited with swimming across the Atlantic. He undertook the exhausting 73-day, 3,716-mile journey to raise money for cancer research in memory of his father, who died of colon cancer.But making one international splash wasn't enough for Lecomte, a father of two with a master's degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington.In mid-May, he'll embark on a quest to become the first to swim across the Pacific, hoping that millions of people following along on Facebook, Twitter and his website will find the inspiration to overcome whatever challenges their lives have brought."What I'm doing is scary," said Lecomte, 44. "I know I have to push myself, push my limits. I want others to see that they can take chances and move out of their comfort zone."How it will workThe Pacific swim will start in Tokyo and end in San Francisco. Lecomte, accompanied by a five-person crew aboard a catamaran, plans to swim about eight hours a day, with a break every four hours. Crew members will toss him liquids every half-hour to keep him hydrated; every hour, he'll receive an energy bar or the like. He'll rest aboard the boat each night and take cover there when the seas get too rough.As in 1998, a sonar device will be deployed to ward off sharks, and crew members will also keep watch."When I swam the Atlantic, I had a shark follow me for five days," Lecomte said. "It's not a question of if, but when."He learned the hard way in 1998 not to overdo it, too. The cold water and strenuous daily exercise left him exhausted, and so when a piece of equipment broke down, the boat took a 350-mile detour to the Azores, where he spent several days recovering."I have to listen to my body," said Lecomte, whose advisers include renowned experts on physiology, kinesiology and swimming. "I'll need to consume at least 8,000 calories a day. If I need to sleep an extra hour, I will. If I can get in an extra hour swimming, I will."Unlike on his Atlantic trip, which drew a degree of skepticism because the support boat drifted with the current each night, presumably cutting down on the distance he had to swim, he'll begin each segment of the Pacific journey at the exact spot -- marked by GPS -- where the previous segment ended.Connecting onlineThe boat will also be equipped with computers and satellite phones to connect his followers with him in real time.His website, thelongestswim.com, will carry up-to-the-minute multimedia reports on his position, the weather conditions, the health and mental status of Lecomte and his crew, and the ocean life they encounter.California-based Ridgeline Entertainment plans a documentary series on the journey and hopes to interest a network in airing it, Executive Producer Ken Ferrari said. Its co-founder and CEO, Doug Stanley, a producer of the Emmy-winning TV show Deadliest Catch, is involved in the project.Lecomte's undertaking, Ferrari said, is easily a metaphor for the daily struggles that many Americans face and is reflected in the tagline "Swimming Against the Tide."At the moment, the project has no financial backers. Lecomte is taking time off from work to focus on his training."It's symbolic of the situation of many people," Ferrari said. "We help each other out. We're all in this together."Ferrari hopes that the project brings the power of emotion and human potential to a wired culture that desensitizes people. The goal is to encourage followers to share their ideas, network with others "and bring back the American dream."What better place to start, he said, than Texas, which has dodged much of the economic pain felt elsewhere in the United States?And what better person to carry the message than Lecomte, whose rugged pioneer spirit symbolizes the independent cowboy?"We want people to feel something that will sustain them," Ferrari said. "Ben has an honor code inside that very few people realize they have within themselves, and we want to bring that out. We want to create a witness to the power of this technology."After his grueling effort in 1998, Lecomte's first words when he staggered ashore were "Never again." But as time passed and he regained his energy, his focus returned to the endless horizon, his dreams to the life-giving sea."For me, it's a way of life," he said. "It's a journey. I feel like I'm at home when I'm in the water."
Patrick M. Walker, 817-390-7423; Twitter: @patrickmwalker1