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Red Cross swimming in money thanks to retiree

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --  Retired Lt. Col. Rich Rasmussen carves his way from end to end at the fitness center pool here; a path he has made hundreds of times as the winner of a Red Cross fund-raiser for the past 12 years.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Retired Lt. Col. Rich Rasmussen carves his way from end to end at the fitness center pool here; a path he has made hundreds of times as the winner of a Red Cross fund-raiser for the past 12 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFPN) -- His name is Rich Rasmussen, but most call him “the fish.” That is because the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel swam in a Red Cross event for the last 13 years, raising more than $19,500 for the organization.

Swimmers collect pledges to raise funds for the American Red Cross.

Notorious for his large stuffed animal fish that travels with him, Colonel Rasmussen has not always been a swimmer. Although he enjoys water sports like skiing, he never swam very far. In 1975, he took to the pool at Howard Air Base, Panama, in an inter-unit competition.

“I figured anybody can backstroke the length of the pool,” Colonel Rasmussen said. “Well, the lifeguards had to pull me out because I couldn’t make it.”

In one summer’s time, Colonel Rasmussen trained until he could reach the end of the pool and back; the rest is history.

In his first Red Cross event in 1990, he finished with 140 lengths. In 2000, he swam his greatest number of nonstop lengths in two hours, finishing with 216 lengths.

His lap grand total is 2,927 lengths of the pool, which converts to 40.65 miles.

“Over 40 miles in the last 15 years is pretty good for the old fish,” Colonel Rasmussen said.

He has won the event for the past 12 years.

Now, he is waiting for the totals to roll in to find out if his final year will also be his 13th year in first place.

During the past 12 years, most of Colonel Rasmussen’s lunch breaks year round were spent at the YMCA, swimming 50 lengths in 30 minutes.

“I’ve been asked why this is my final swim marathon,” he said. “Simple answer, my life’s responsibilities have changed.”

Last fall, Colonel Rasmussen went to California and brought his 82-year-old mother to Oklahoma. He has been taking care of her since then.

“For six months, I didn’t get in the pool once; my time was needed elsewhere,” he said. “Mom has responded better than I ever hoped.”

His mother was able to sit poolside to see him swim this past event.

Colonel Rasmussen said the Red Cross helped his troops while he was active duty.

“In all my years in the Air Force and as a commander of different units, there were a lot of times my troops needed the Red Cross help,” he said. “They were the agency I could always go to and get the support I needed for my troops no matter where I was in the world. For the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to help the Red Cross in return. They were there when my troops needed it.”

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