COLUMBUS, Ohio – A thoughtful and compassionate student-athlete community service event took place Monday at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on the campus of The Ohio State University. Members of Ohio State’s men’s and women’s swimming teams took part in a 12-hour relay race called “Water to Water” to raise money and awareness for the plight of those who do not have clean, safe drinking water.

The effort was conceived, planned and administered by one member of the team; one four-year swimming letterman who didn’t have to be the star of the team to be inspirational enough in his leadership ways to be voted by his peers one of three team captains for the 2010-11 season: Ben Savonen.

Savonen, from Carleton, Mich., and Monroe High School, is a four-time OSU Scholar-Athlete and a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He will graduate in June with a degree in mechanical engineering, and this fall he will attend Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Mich., and study in its Peace Corps engineering program.

His studies and related interests introduced him to the plight of a lack of fresh water in some countries around the world. And he was touched by the fact that 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and that every 15 seconds someone dies of a waterborne illness.

Those numbers mean something to someone who has spent probably a third of his life in the water. So he decided to do something to help this cause.

Partnering with Thirst Relief International, a non-profit out of Lewis Center, Ohio, whose mission is to save lives through safe drinking water, Savonen organized the day-long relay race he called “Water to Water” to raise funds and awareness.

He recruited swimmers, including 46 off the Ohio State men’s and women’s teams, who partnered up and swam in 30 minute shifts.

He recruited volunteers, like former swimmer Alex Smit, who sat poolside with a co-ed counting and monitoring laps. And he recruited other helpers, like his mother, Ann, who came down from Carlton to staff a Thirst Relief International booth in the RPAC and pass out literature, bottles of water and spread key messages like “$5 can save a child’s life” and “one out of six people in the world have to walk miles just to get a drink of brown, dirty water.”

While total dollars raised wasn’t immediately available because online donations were still being accepted, Savonen was confident his swimmer’s efforts will raise over $2,000 for Thirst Relief International’s Cameroon WASH Project. It is money that will be directly used to dig wells and provide water filters for a number of schools in the country of Cameroon.

“The goal was for the relay to swim 40 miles,” Savonen said about 2:30 p.m. and nearly seven hours into the relay. “But I am confident we are going to get close to 50 miles. The swimmers really took this seriously. They were swimming for a life-saving cause. They knew that every 15 seconds someone dies of a waterborne illness.”

“This is a totally unique and special event,” Ohio State men’s coach Bill Wadley said, “and Ben Savonen set it all up. To develop an awareness and a sensitivity to the plights of others around the world is really something special. This kind of effort will be a habit for our young individuals who were involved, and that is a great thing.”  

Let it be clearly noted that Savonen did not want this story to be about him or anything he did to provide the genesis for this fundraising event. Fact noted.

But the real fact of the matter is this: the world is going to be a better place because of people like Ben Savonen…because of Ohio State graduates like Ben Savonen.

Thanks, Ben. And good luck in graduate school and on your Peace Corps mission.  

Interested in donating to the “Water to Water” project: Click on Water to Water above.