Earlier this year, I wrote an article about Running Toward the Lion’s Roar and Preparing to Face our Biggest Fears.

Well, I recently met a San Diegan who did exactly just that and for a wonderful cause. On August 5, Blair Cannon swam 21 miles across the Catalina Channel to raise money for Monarch School, our country’s only public K-12 school for homeless children and the Great Friends Foundation Scholarship Program for children of the military in San Diego.

I was intrigued to learn how he developed his vision and how he got the nerve to publicly commit to such a lofty goal. The following are excerpts of our talk. There is so much we can learn from Blair and how he approached his goal that we can apply to our personal and professional lives.

SN: Blair, thank you for helping children in our community. Many people may have been unaware of the Monarch School until your swim. How did this come together for you?

BC: I’ve been a board member of the Friendship Foundation for a few years and the Monarch School is one of the schools they promote. There are more than 13,000 homeless children in San Diego and 175 attend this school. I’ve spent time with these wonderful kids and I wanted to show them that if you dream big, you could accomplish anything.

SN: Can you share with us your thought process before you committed to the swim?

BC: I have been a competitive athlete for years and in my last Ironman Triathlon, I realized I need to have a purpose, an inspiration, because you are going to get to a dark moment, like we all do in life and you need that inspiration to get you through. In March of this year, after spending time with the kids at the Monarch school, I found my inspiration and realized that this was a perfect opportunity to show these kids that you can do anything you put your mind to. This may sound cliché but kids don’t always get examples like that. When I was in grade school, there were some adults that left a positive impression on me and made me think, ‘I want to be like that person.’

SN: There were a lot of things for you to think about. The good news was that the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation officially sanctioned you. The bad news was that you were not going to be wearing a wet suit; you couldn’t make physical contact with anyone or anything and how about jellyfish and sharks? How do you prepare mentally for something like this?

BC: I break it down into small pieces. I thought, OK, the first few hours, I’ve got it, I’m fresh, I’m inspired. The last two hours, I’ve got it and I’ll know the finish line is around the corner. So it’s really a chunk there in the middle that I’m going to have to focus on in order to keep going. It’s just a game of fractions.

SN: What would you say to someone who has a big goal in mind and has fear?

BC: A few things.

  1. First, confront that fear. We can accomplish anything we want in life when we align our heart and mind.
  2. Second, focus on why you want to do it. From there, you can develop a proper frame of mind and path to success. When the 2nd and 3rd graders asked me if I’d be cold, hungry and scared, I responded, “Absolutely!” I reminded them that we all face challenges in life and that it’s not always easy, but and with hard work and a positive attitude, we can accomplish anything. It’s natural to have fears, but we should focus on the things in life that we can control, which bring me to my third point.
  3. You have to acknowledge what you can’t control and find peace with that. I knew I obviously couldn’t control the cold choppy water and the darkness. So I focused on the things I could control. For me, that was my pace, my fuel intake and my attitude. For example, I decided that the jellyfish that were stinging me were actually waking me up. It’s like the first time I ran a marathon, I told myself to smile the whole way, rather than grimacing and gritting my teeth. There is a profound difference in the two and with how your body responds.
  4. Last, seek advice from a coach, mentor or friend who has had experience in a similar endeavor. Establish and share your short-term goals that will allow you to eventually achieve your long-term goals. It is also important to make sure that you have buy-in from your family, friends and colleagues before you get started because a support structure is vital to your success.

SN: Anything you’d like everyone to know about the Monarch School and their students?

BC: Monarch School is helping to break the cycle of homelessness by eliminating all barriers to a quality education and regular school attendance. As San Diegans, we should all feel pride to have this unique school right here in San Diego.

Monarch (which has a public-private partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education) relies on community outreach to provide amenities such as showers, clean clothes and multiple meals a day. The coolest thing is kids are kids. When you see them at Monarch, no one would ever know that they are homeless. They’re eager to learn, happy to be there and upbeat and optimistic.

SN: Thank you for your efforts. What do you foresee as your next steps?

BC: I am collaborating with a group of local athletes to create a program where they can help raise awareness and money to support the Monarch School’s after-school programs on a much larger, more sustainable scale.

Blair swam 21 miles in 8 hours and 18 minutes. His efforts resulted in $110,000 being raised for the Monarch School. He was recognized with the 4th fastest men’s time to cross the Catalina Channel from Catalina to mainland. This video chronicles the big day.

To contribute to Blair Cannon’s fundraising campaign for the Monarch School and the Great Friends Foundation, visit monarchschools.org. To contact Blair Cannon you can email him at blair.cannon@bernstein.com.