Home Page

Family Alzheimer's tragedies inspire children of Westside dentist to attempt first-ever
tri-sibling English Channel crossing

Devin Wahl
Courtesy of Devin Wahl
       “I can clearly remember my grandfather when he had Alzheimer's disease, along with my uncle. I can clearly remember the pain my grandfather went through when he could not remember my name, how old I was, and eventually that I was even his grandson.”
                                                                                - Devin Wahl

       What might a person do with experiences like that? Devin, 24, hopes to find a cure. On the career-related side, he is in the second year of a two-year paid internship at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, which includes the study of Alzheimer's.
       Then, six months ago he had a more flamboyant idea. It was for a unique, glorious, extremely challenging publicity stunt, and it also required his younger siblings, Danielle, 21, and Dustin, 18.
       They would swim the English Channel, the first tri-sibling crossing ever, and they would use the effort to raise money to fight Alzheimers.
       It's not as crazy as it might sound. All three are in peak physical condition, experienced, successful swimmers in high school as well as in college.
       Nor was the English Channel a random notion. Danielle can attest to that. She made the 21-mile crossing a year ago - although she does not dispute that it was an arduous journey, complicated by jellyfish attacks and water no warmer than 60 degrees. “If it weren't for my two brothers, I definitely would not be doing this again,” she said. “They are helping me and providing me with an extra layer of motivation to swim it again and this time for a great cause.”

Danielle Wahl
Courtesy of Devin Wahl
       The trio are the children of Michael and Andrea Wahl. A dentist, Michael has had a practice on the Westside for more than a quarter-century. He also introduced his children to the water at very young ages and has set an example over the years by entering and completing endurance competitions himself.
       According to Andrea, no prodding has been needed to inspire her offspring to train for the crossing, scheduled July 22. In June, Danielle even swam the Catalina Channel (off the coast of southern California), a distance of more than 20 miles, despite getting bumped repeatedly by a kayak that was accompanying her.
       On a regular basis, rising at 4:45 a.m. and swimming four to five hours a day, “all the kids have been producing 50-60,000 yards in the pool each week,” Andrea said. “Weight-lifting is done at the gym three times a week, and they are diligently taking ice-baths three to four days a week. Dustin is trying to put on another five to eight pounds and is having some difficulty doing so - he's eating a lot of peanut butter and ice-cream. Body fat is needed to stay warm in those cold waters. So we are getting a little more concerned about that.”
       Devin graduated from Colorado College, where he was an all-American swimmer in 2012. He has also competed in Ironman and Triathlon competitions and climbed various mountains, including Kilimanjaro in Africa and Longs Peak in Colorado. Both Danielle, who will be a senior, and Dustin, a sophomore, are members of the swim team at Centre College in Danville, KY.

Dustin Wahl
Courtesy of Devin Wahl
       To get a feel for the Channel's challenge, the Wahl siblings seek out large, outdoor water expanses. With Devin training on his own in Baltimore, a popular Colorado spot for Danielle and Dustin has been a lake in Golden. “Today the water there was 53 degrees-- BRRRRRRRR!” reported Andrea in a recent e-mail. “Danielle is ill now, so she only swam an hour. Dustin had to get out after about 40 minutes because that water was ice-cold. There was only one guy swimming there and he had on a wet suit, which keeps the body pretty cozy. He looked at the kids (in their Speedos) like they were CRAZY! He asked what the heck they were doing in there without wet suits! (I felt like an irresponsible mother!)”
       After Devin's internship ends next May, he plans to study for a Ph.D. in neuroscience and possibly teach the subject at a university.
       Danielle wants to pursue a master's in sports psychology. This summer, she is managing a swim team and pool and is working at USA Triathlon as an intern.
       Dustin is leaning toward an engineering career. He also has coached swimming.
       Alzheimer's, the disease being fought, strikes people randomly after the age of 50, family history is not a factor, and 5 million people have it today. The website that the Wahl siblings have created for their crossing/fundraiser points to the Alzheimer's Association as "the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. All donations are 100 percent tax deductible and go to vital research and essential support programs and services.”
       A recent Newsweek article, drawing its data from the Alzheimer’s Association, says that research into a cure is "deeply underfunded [and] not a single treatment exists to slow, stop, prevent or reverse the disease," even though it's the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
       “The Channel swim will be a swim of the mind,'" Dustin summarized. "Through the 60-degree water, jellyfish and 21 miles of swimming, my mental limits will reveal my physical limits. Hopefully, this swim will bring awareness to the cause, and inspire others to face 'mind-over-matter' experiences and thrilling challenges.”
       For more information, or to make a donation, go to the Wahl siblings' website: wahlchannelcrossing.org

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 7/8/14; Community: Charitable)

Would you like to respond to this article? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)