Teens crush record cancer swim across the Sound

On July 28, sunshine and calm waters greeted 140 swimmers as they took on the 15.5 miles between Long Island, New York and Bridgeport on Saturday for the 28th annual SWIM Across the Sound marathon. The swimmers’ effort support the 30,000 people annually battling cancer.

This year’s SWIM raised more than $250,000, all of which goes to St. Vincent’s 45 cancer education, prevention, and assistance programs. A group of six teens from New Haven’s Hopkins School, called the Hopkins Hilltoppers, came in first place completing the marathon in five hours, 54 minutes, and 32 seconds, crushing the previous record of 8:15:20.

“When we were about half way across, we realized we had a good chance of winning,” said Team Captain Mollie Seidner, age 16, of Woodbridge. “For a while it was neck and neck between us and two other teams but we were determined.”  While most were motivated by their love of the sport, two team members’ grandparents had cancer, making the connection a personal one. In addition to Seidner, members of the Hopkins Hilltoppers include Katharine Larsen, 16, of Milford; Gwyneth Maloy, 16, of New Haven; Philip Ross, 16, of Woodbridge; Evan Schott, 15, of New Haven; and Michael Zhu, 15, of Woodbridge.

Coming in second and third places were the Wavecrushers and Swim Seventy, which recorded 5:58:37 and 6:00:09, respectively. This year’s marathon included four solo swimmers, 20 team relays of four to six swimmers, and four two-person relays.

One other course record was broken in the name of cancer support, as well. Brown Emergency Medicine, whose members are emergency room doctors at the Rhode Island Hospital Level I Trauma Center, broke the record for the Corporate Challenge Relay, coming in at seven hours, 40 minutes, and 17 seconds.

“Our motto is: We want to crush cancer,” said Mike Hunihan, Brown Emergency Medicine team captain.

“This event rocked we want to make this a yearly deal. And for everyone who has cancer keep fighting.”

Emotions ran high as swimmers arrived at Captain’s Cove Seaport in the historic Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport.

For Carlos Acosta, a 42-year-old solo swimmer from Mexico City, completing this marathon brings him one step closer to qualifying to swim the English Channel. With his parents and aunt cheering him on from the docks, he emerged from the waters exhausted but ecstatic.

Tom Casey, a stage 4 cancer survivor who swam with the Survivors,  inspired not only his teammates, but everyone on the docks who witnessed him triumphantly cross the finish line. The dockside crowd shared his tears of joy as he joined his teammates for a group photo. Casey has been swimming in the marathon since 2002. He believed in the cause and felt privileged to use his interest and skills in swimming to help patients and their families who battle cancer and the many burdens it brings along with it. He never dreamed he would find himself on the other end of the battle himself.

“The SWIM Across the Sound has a brand new meaning for me now. We just never know when we might find ourselves struggling for our lives,” he said.

Led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, hundreds shouted words of encouragement to Marlon Meggie of the St. Vincent’s Bullsharks, whose muscles had cramped, making the final approach incredibly painful. Determined to complete the marathon together, his teammates took turns flanking both his sides to help him cross the finish line.

Dozens of cancer survivors and their families were able to cruise aboard the Spirit of the Sound  and watch the swimmers as they crossed Long Island Sound. The 64-foot catamaran was donated by the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.

“This is the first year we were able to bring families out onto the water to see the swimmers in action and everyone loved it,” said Lyn McCarthy, executive director, St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation, which sponsors the SWIM Across the Sound Marathon.

“To see these families together, laughing and having a carefree time, knowing what they’ve survived, is very special.”

Since that first marathon raised $5,000 in 1987, the SWIM has grown into a series of year-round events. Each swimmer and team raised funds in order to participate in the SWIM, which offers a significant safety net to the region by providing one-on-one financial assistance to cancer patients regardless of where they receive their care.

“We encourage people living with cancer to focus their energy on maintaining their health. Let the SWIM help with the other day-to-day concerns that’s what we’re here for,”  McCarthy said.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to all of our swimmers, boat captains, crew, volunteers, and donors. It’s thanks to them that people fighting cancer, some without insurance or money for food, utilities, medications, or housing, now have somewhere to turn.”

St. Vincent’s SWIM Across the Sound provides cancer education, screening, and prevention programs at low- or no-cost for the uninsured and underinsured. In addition, the SWIM helps individual cancer patients on a case-by-case basis with specific needs, such as the funding of wigs and prostheses, payment of utilities or rent, medication assistance, free transportation to treatments and appointments, day-care scholarships, support groups and more.

For more information on the SWIM, visit www.SwimAcrosstheSound.org.