Mimi Hughes: Diving in to Protect the River
Mimi Hughes is a marathon swimmer. So in 1999, when the 43-year-old reading teacher and mother of four from Taft, Tennessee, wanted to promote public awareness about protecting the waters of the Tennessee River, she plunged right in—to the river, of course.
Hughes began her aquatic trek at Forks of the River in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the French Broad and Holston rivers join to form the Tennessee. With the help of support boats manned by various TVA Watershed Teams along the way, she swam the 1,049- kilometer (652-mile) length of the Tennessee River—equivalent to the mileage from Nashville to Dallas—over five summers. On July 24, 2003, Hughes completed the final 211-kilometer (131-mile) segment through Kentucky Reservoir to Paducah, Kentucky, where the Tennessee joins the Ohio River.
Before swimming the last leg of her quest, which she named Tennessee Riverswim, Hughes thanked TVA Watershed Team members for their support. She wrote in her online journal, “As excited as I am about the finish, it is sad that the end cannot be a reunion of all the people at TVA that made this swim possible. TVA has been as supportive as my family and I am indebted to so many people within the organization. I learned so much from my captains and others. Perhaps I enriched their lives as much as they enriched mine. Maybe some of them will be able to make it to the finish and join in the celebration. If that is not possible, please know that I kindly remember all of you and carry you with me in my thoughts and in my heart.”
During her five-summer swim, Hughes swam past trash and natural debris as well as other pollutants, many of which had been illegally dumped into the river or onto the shore. She purposely spread out the swim over such a long period of time, she said, to make the public focus on river pollution each summer. “I want to draw attention to the incredible resource that this river provides for everyone who lives in the Tennessee Valley,” said Hughes. “I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility to help keep the river clean.”
Reaching the river’s end in 2003 did not mark the end of Hughes’s commitment to promote a cleaner Tennessee River. Today she devotes considerable time to river cleanup efforts and travels around the Tennessee Valley sharing the environmental lessons learned from her amazing journey.
Added Hughes, “Many people take the river for granted and may not realize that their actions, not just on or near the water, but anywhere in the watershed, can be harmful to the river. Whether it’s preventing soil erosion along streams, closely following instructions for lawn chemicals, or just helping keep trash and pollution out of the river, everyone can do something to help.”
For more information on Hughes’s swim, visit the Riverswim Web site.