DISCLAIMER: Open-water swimming is inherently dangerous. Open-water swimmers risk drowning, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heart attacks, panic attacks, cramping, jelly fish stings, fish bites, boat or jet-ski collisions, collisions with floating or submerged objects (including other swimmers), and other calamities that can be injurious, disabling or fatal! The "West Neck Pod" is an informal association of open-water swimmers who swim "outside the lines" with no lifeguard protection, it has no formal membership, organizational structure or legal identity, and its participants, including the author of this blog, make no representations and assume no liability with respect to its group open-water swims. All swimmers who participate in West Neck Pod group open-water swims do so at their own risk. Be careful out there!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Swim Across America: Raising Funds to Fight Cancer, "From Sea to Shining Sea...."

The year 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of "Swim Across America," a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related events. In addition to numerous pool events, there are now 13 open-water Swim Across America ("SAA") fundraising events in various venues throughout the country, including two on Long Island.
This year, five West Neck Pod swimmers participated in the August 13th "Sound-to-Cove" open water swim from Long Island Sound to Morgan Park in Glen Cove: Evelyn Cruise and I swimming the 5K and Bonnie Millen and Karl Bourke swimming the 1-mile as part of "Team Hope;" and Meghan McGovern swimming the 5K as part of "Team T.O.A.S.T." Together we raised more than $6,000 for local cancer research programs sponsored by Swim Across America. Next year we plan to swim as part of "Team West Neck Pod" and raise even more money to fight this monstrous disease that has left virtually no family – including the West Neck Pod family – unscathed. Bonnie, swimming the 1-mile event just a few months after her own surgery for breast cancer, swam in memory of her best friend Gail Scamoni, whom cancer claimed in January; Karl swam in memory of his Uncle Edward Burke; Evelyn swam in honor of her Uncle Michael; Meghan swam in honor of her two aunts and friend who are currently battling cancer; and I swam in honor of my Pod-mate Bonnie, and in memory of my Aunt Mary Agnes Patscott, my friends Richie Clarke, Richard Thatcher and Barbara Sforza, and too many others....

Swim Across America’s mission has been embraced not only by hometown athletes, but by numerous Olympic and world swimming champions, including Diana Nyad, a longtime SAA supporter, whose heroic effort to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida had been cut short just a few days before the "Sound to Cove" SAA swim. Like so many others who had been both inspired and humbled by Diana’s "Xtreme Dream," my heart was still aching with disappointment -- not for myself but for Diana -- when I set out to swim a course that I was mindful was approximately 100 miles shorter than the course Diana had set for herself! Having swum several 5K events before, I was confident that I would be able to swim the 3.1 mile distance, but I was somewhat daunted nevertheless by the one-way course whose start point was out in the middle of Long Island Sound! The seemingly endless boat ride out to the starting buoy, the wait for the last 10K swimmer (10K!) to pass on his way all the way across the Sound from Larchmont, the leap from the boat into DEEP, unfamiliar water, 3.1 miles from a shore that I could no longer see, unnerved me, especially when I realized that my goggle strap had detached when I jumped, and I watched my fellow 5K swimmers recede into the distance as I struggled to rethread it and adjust my goggles for the swim. When I finally started swimming (of course I had to take a few photographs, first!), I was far behind the pack, and all alone in the middle of Long Island Sound (except for the kayaker who quickly zeroed in on me – thanks, Fran!).

Anxious to catch up with the pack, I found myself beginning to hyperventilate, and had to stop swimming to calm myself and regulate my breathing. I found myself thinking again of Diana Nyad, swimming for nearly 30 hours straight, much of it in total darkness, in a vast body of roiling water, plagued by excruciating shoulder pain, innumerable jellyfish stings, relentless nausea, and an inexplicable attack of asthma that left her gasping for breath as an implacable current carried her ever farther off course, and I felt ashamed of my seemingly petty fear and anxiety.

As I found my breath and settled into my swim, trying to channel my inner Diana Nyad (except for the asthma and the shoulder pain!), my thoughts turned to the courageous cancer patients and their families whose struggles for survival, quality of life, and dignity are ultimately the motivation for this and all of the other "Swims Across America." Though their struggles are not freely chosen, unlike the "Xtreme" challenge Diana Nyad had set for herself, and the far more modest one I had undertaken in swimming from "Sound to Cove," they all bear witness to one fundamental truth: It’s not the destination that matters, but how you make the journey.... See you in the Salt.

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