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Soulful swimmer raises thousands for orphans

READ MORE: Soulful swimmer raises thousands for orphans

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- In an effort to keep up her physical and spiritual health and raise thousands of dollars for African orphans, one soulful swimmer set out to accomplish a big goal Saturday.

"I'm feeling elated, excited, energetic, relieved, and I'm just happy to be done,” said Leanne LaFave, the first person to ever formally attempt to swim the intracoastal waters from Carolina Beach to Wrightsville Beach.

LaFave jumped in the water just after sunrise Saturday morning, surrounded by friends and family who provided moral support and safety along the way.

"Leanne has always been very determined to give it her all, but Leanne was inspired when she was eight years old,” LaFave’s dad Frank Vella said. “She just refuses to be a quitter. There's no such thing in Leanne's world as quitting."

Vella said he's never been so proud in his life, and added that he's even more proud of his daughter because of the mission behind the swim.

LaFave traveled to Zimbabwe with ZOE Ministry in 2006. It's an organization all about empowering AIDS orphans in Africa.

"We don't want to take kids that are beggars on the streets of Africa and just turn them into higher class beggars,” organization founder Greg Jenks said. “We want them to have the dignity of being able to provide for themselves."

Jenks said he’s ecstatic about the money and the awareness LaFave raised for the ministry. Thanks to the swim, LaFave raised more than $18,000 for orphan empowerment.

"Thinking about the children who walk three miles to get their food a day and back and being physically handicapped by disease; if they can do that on a daily basis without a mother and father to put them to bed at night, then I knew that swimming 10 miles in the beautiful intracoastal waterway, having all this support around me,” LaFave said. “How could I bellyache about 10.3 miles?"

With friends and family cheering her on the whole way, LaFave finished her 10.3-mile swim in just five hours and nine minutes.

LaFave trained four days a week for six months to prepare for the swim. She said she had some doubts about finishing but knows her faith in God and her love for the orphans are what kept her kicking.

For more information about ZOE Ministry, visit

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