Higley’s Keaton Jones went the extra mile to raise money for members of the Arizona community most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Jones, alongside his Swim Neptune teammates Devin Esser, came up with the Going the Extra Mile Challenge to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the state. The two, along with teammate Tal Spector, coach Joe Zemaitis and his brother, John Zemaitis, all swam 25 miles in 24 hours as part of the challenge. Two relay teams from Swim Neptune also completed it, along with Jones’ mother, Elizabeth, and younger sister, Ezmee, who also swam a relay.
“My mom and I were going to do a running challenge where you run four miles every four hours until you hit 30 miles,” Jones said. “I was talking to Devin about it and (Joe Zemaitis) said he heard about a swimming challenge in California where they swam a mile every hour for 24 hours.
“The idea kind of blew up from there.”
A fundraiser was set up ahead of the event, which began on Saturday, June 6 and ended Sunday, June 7. All proceeds will be donated to retirement homes, assisted-living facilities and long-term care facilities across the state.
Jones and the group jumped into the pool at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix at 10 a.m. Saturday to complete their first mile – or roughly 71 laps – in the challenge. It took Jones just over 20 minutes on average to complete each mile in the pool. By the time the challenge had officially ended, he had spent 8 hours, 33 minutes and 19 seconds in the water.
“It was me against sleep,” Jones said. “The physical part was hard, but I did not do well with not getting a lot of sleep. It was difficult to hop in a pool at 2 a.m.”
Jones said he started to hit a wall around the 10-hour mark, nearly the midway point of the challenge. It was at that point even the little amount of sleep he would get between legs were barely enough to keep him going.
Once he finished a mile, he would often apply a vitamin-C solution to his skin to combat the chlorine. He would also drink chocolate milk and other fluids for energy and protein, as well as eat meals whenever he could.
Tents were set up for the individual families to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Jones had an air mattress inside where he would take periodic naps.
While depleted of energy by the time the final hour came, Jones knew he was on the final stretch. In hour 24, all participants stayed in the pool to swim an extra mile, capping off the challenge.
“I was really proud of all of us and that we all finished,” Jones said. “There was never any doubt we wouldn’t, but there was a possibility. We all toughed it out.”
Heading into his sophomore year at Higley, Jones has already become an accomplished swimmer. This past year, he broke the national age group record in the 200 backstroke. He also qualified for the Olympic Trials and won gold at the 2019 Jr. National Championships. He’s also a state-champion swimmer in Arizona and holds numerous records.
Despite his accolades, Jones still believes completing this challenge was one of his top accomplishments. Though it did take a toll on him.
He slept a majority of the hour-long drive home to Gilbert Sunday after the challenge, only waking up to eat. He slept for another five hours, ate then slept for nearly 12 more. Waking up Monday, he said his body was the sorest it had ever been. But it was well worth it.
Jones and company so far have raised over $34,000.
“This was a mental achievement for me,” Jones said. “Just the fact that I got through it, and it’s for a good cause, makes me feel good that I was able to complete it.”