Marine’s cold swim in Mohawk won’t deter trip plan

Marine veteran Thomas Diliberti is OK but wants to slow down a bit and adjust his plans after capsiz

Marine veteran Thomas Diliberti is OK but wants to slow down a bit and adjust his plans after capsizing his kayak in the Mohawk River on Tuesday.

Diliberti, 41, launched a voyage from his birthplace on Long Island on Oct. 7 and paddled up the Hudson River, then connected with the state canal system and headed west. Diliberti intends to kayak to his current home in Texas, ultimately using as final legs the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.

His mission has two purposes. For one, he’s trying to raise $100,000 for the Marines Helping Marines Wounded Warriors program. The former anti-tank crew member, who served in Panama and in Operation Desert Storm, is also suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and he also sees the trip as a bit of therapy.

For a while Tuesday it was shock therapy. He abandoned his kayak after falling into the 50-degree water just east of Lock 10 near Amsterdam. He lost one of his outriggers and the use of his cellphone and laptop computer.

But he’s otherwise in good spirits and said he didn’t have trouble swimming, even though his dry suit wasn’t on all the way and the legs of the suit started filling with water.

He got to shore on his own and an ambulance crew from the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps took him to St. Mary’s hospital for a warm-up.

“Marines don’t sink,” said Diliberti Wednesday.

He started a difficult week Monday when he launched into the Mohawk River and found himself in a snowstorm. He said he dropped money out of one of his storage bags digging for his cellphone and started circling around in the river picking up the cash.

Then, after hours of paddling, he realized he’d gotten turned around and was going the wrong way.

Tuesday he took his swim and didn’t retrieve his boat until Wednesday, with the help of an acquaintance he met earlier on his way through Schenectady. Diliberti’s friend, Dave Youmans, helped him get his kayak back and is sheltering him at his house. Diliberti plans to rest up and restart the journey next week.

The canal will be closed by the time he resumes his trip, so he’ll likely get a ride to Pennsylvania and launch into the Allegheny River, then to points west.

With the help of his girlfriend, Dayton Williams, who’s waiting for him in Texas, he’s updating his progress on his web page, It’s a website that gives viewers an inside look at the life of a man who risked his life for his country and, years later, continues an internal battle.

His diagnosis of PTSD came only recently, and Diliberti describes his post-military life as one wrought with “minor success met always with great defeats: destroyed relationships, trouble with the law, battling alcoholism and drug addiction.”

Now, Diliberti said he’s ready to pay more attention to himself and he’s ready to let some things go.

“It’s just really a metaphor for my life,” he said of Tuesday’s dunk in the Mohawk River. “I have to start releasing the things that don’t serve me. I’m back trying to focus a little on myself, that’s really the primary focus of this journey.”

The nonprofit Marines Helping Marines was founded in 2005 and has contributed more than $250,000 in supplies, goods and services to Marine Corps veterans, according to the website

The organization initially formed to offer veterans emotional support and has expanded to provide Marines and their families with taxi and restaurant vouchers, phone cards and housing funding, among other items.

When he gets back on the water, Diliberti plans to head from the Allegheny to the Ohio River, then he’ll take the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico before the final stretch of his journey, which will end in Galveston, Texas.

“I came out alive and I came out with a lesson. Hopefully it sinks in this time. I just need to slow it down,” Diliberti said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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