Navy vet takes on 21-mile swim in honor of 'Em'

Em had cystic fibrosis


UPDATE: Palmese has successfully made the Catalina channel swim. It took him 12.5 hours.

A Navy veteran has a new mission, and this one is personal.

Rob Palmese will attempt to tackle the tough task of swimming the Catalina Channel. It is 21 miles from Catalina Island to the San Pedro Peninsula.

Rob Palmese knew Emily Nichols as Em.

"The last thing I said to her was a text message four days before she passed away," he said.

They would text nonstop, even during Palmese's deployment. He knew she was gone when he could not reach her.

He said she was born with cystic fibrosis, which is a deadly genetic disease that attacks the lungs and makes it harder and harder to breathe.

"Half the year was spent in the hospital away from friends and family," he said.

The two were close throughout high school and during his four years in the Navy, so he saw it eat away at her. They did a 5K together, but even walking grew hard for her.

"I don't have a disease that restricts me in any way," Palmese said. "So, I'd like to do something to memorialize everyone with cystic fibrosis as well as just my friend."

That is why he is taking on the arduous swim, which he thinks will take between 8 and 12 hours.

He will not be wearing a wetsuit, just a Speedo, a swim cap, goggles and a pack with liquid feed.

"Ya, it's not normal at all!" he said as he laughed.

He said at last count there were only about 300 who made it, so a boat will stay at his side. Em's parents will be on board.

"Because it's real hard," he said with a chuckle.

He said he and Em had always liked each other. In fact, in that last text message he sent, he opened his heart for the first time.

"The very last thing I said to her was, 'I love you'," he said as a tear rolled down his cheek.

He will do the "Swim for Em" in loving memory.

He said he has raised $200 of the $1,500 he hopes to raise for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

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