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How do you keep 100 children in rapt attention? One way is to be able to tell them about your personal experiences of swimming with sharks.
That’s one of the topics that came up as Tom Jones, an extreme athlete, spoke to a group of youth from the Bedford Area YMCA during a trip to Smith Mountain Lake State Park’s beach Thursday afternoon. Jones is paddling the entire perimeter of Smith Mountain Lake on a stand up paddle board and had just finished paddling 25 miles that morning. The previous day he completed 35 miles in five hours.
Jones told the youth about his experiences on a stand-up paddle board on the ocean, and his frequent shark sightings. Jones has paddled from Oregon to Mexico and from Key West to New York City.
It was on the east coast that he had an encounter with an alligator. He was paddling close to shore during an early leg of the trip.
“I hit something and it moved,” Jones said.
That “something” began churning up the water.
“Then, all of a sudden, a big mouth full of teeth came up and bit my paddle off,” he said.
This was a large gator’s way of expressing its displeasure over being smacked with Jones’ paddle.
He also had an encounter with a pod of orcas, otherwise known as killer whales. He was paddling off the coast of California and crossed Shelter Cove, even though he was advised to hug the shoreline due to the presence of orcas in the cove. He took the route through the middle because it took five miles off his route. Soon he attracted the attention of a pod of between 12 and 15 orcas and the large marine mammals came over to investigate. That’s when Jones really became impressed with just how big they are.
Jones kept paddling and repeating, “There has never been a reported attack by an orca on a human being.”
As it turned out, the biggest threat to his safety came from Danny Misken, who follows Jones on a personal watercraft. Misken provides water and food to Jones while he’s paddling and is there to perform a rescue if Jones has a problem and needs to be taken ashore quickly. Misken was unnerved by the orcas surrounding them, got too close to Jones’ board, bumped it and knocked Jones off into the water. Jones, with the assistance of fear, got back on the board fast.
“We didn’t realize how big they are,” Misken commented.
Jones is in the area to raise money for the Safe Surfin’ Foundation, an organization that educates children and young teens about safety on the Internet. He tied his encounters with predators in the sea with a different kind of predator the youth can encounter on the Internet.
“If somebody approaches you [on the Internet] and asks things that make you uncomfortable, go tell an adult right away,” he said.
Nancy Mineo, the child care director at the Y, was pleased with the visit.
“He was wonderful with the children as far as being patient,” she said. “It really meant a lot to me for him to take the time out to speak to the children.”
Mineo was pleased that Jones asked her, before talking to the youth, what would make a difference.
“It wasn’t about him, it was about the Y and the children,” she said.
Mineo said that this has encouraged her to team up with the Safe Surfin’ Foundation.
“I, without a doubt, would like to get more active with that and see how we can bring it out to the children,” she said.
Jones does extreme athletic events to raise money for projects that he’s convinced are worthy causes. He said that if something isn’t a worthy cause, he won’t get involved. Jones, who was sexually molested by adults while living in a children’s home, believes that an organization that protects youth from pedophiles online is a worthy cause. The Safe Surfin’ Foundation gets no government money and depends on donations.
Jones’ Lake paddle, and fundraising effort, is scheduled to conclude at the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce Beach Bash at Parkway Marina on Aug. 25.
His next effort will be to paddle from California to Hawaii to promote Plastic Free Ocean. Plastic Free Ocean seeks to draw attention to the dangers posed, both to marine life and people, from the amount of plastic objects that end up floating in the sea.
For more information about Tom Jones, go to www.tomjonesextreme.com.