Just over 30 years ago, in 1987, three swimmers and two boats launched from Port Jefferson. For more than 15 miles they dragged themselves across the dark blue-green waters of the Long Island Sound, finally making it to Bridgeport, all for the sake of those battling cancer.
This year, just over 100 swimmers sank into the cold waters of the Sound early morning Aug. 3, and in three groups took off on the 15.5-mile trek across the Sound with around 64 support boats and 20 law enforcement vessels staying in pace beside them all the way across to Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The event is part of Bridgeport-based St. Vincent’s SWIM Across the Sound Marathon, helping to support thousands of people in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area battling cancer. While in 1987 the swimmers raised approximately $5,000 for cancer charity, this has jumped to an average of $250,000 to $300,000 annually in modern times. So far, the foundation is halfway to its final goal of $300,000, while the SWIM program raises around $2 million a year through all their various events.
The money goes to the assistance of people suffering from cancer in the Connecticut area for financial assistance for things beyond what insurance provides, such as mortgage and tax bills. They also help provide mammograms and ultrasounds for uninsured women.
“The goal of the swim is to help patients get through the diagnosis and the cancer, a lot of them aren’t working,” said Lyn Fine-McCarthy, the executive director of St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation. “There is about 30,000 individuals every year that we help, these are patients who are going through cancer treatments, out of work, and sometimes are single moms, and just need a lot of financial assistance.”
Fine-McCarthy added they are grateful to Danfords Hotel & Marina for being the staging ground and home base for the event for years going on.
Each relay team is asked to raise a minimum of $7,500, while two-person teams must raise $3,500 and solo swimmers a minimum of $1,500.
While a majority of the swimmers were from Connecticut, a good portion came from the tristate area and from as far away as Tennessee and Florida. Two native Long Island swimmers and exercise science majors at Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University, Victoria Catizone, of Sayville, and Shanna Haddow, of Northport, participated in a team where they have already raised just over $3,000 for the event with a goal of reaching $7,500.
Haddow said this was the first time she and her three teammates have participated in the marathon, with her finishing in a time of 7 hours, 17 minutes.
“We had never done it before,” she said. “We knew what to expect, but not really what to expect. We were taking it swim by swim, and we knew we had a long day ahead of us.”
Haddow, has been swimming since she was 6 years old. She now swims distance for her college team, and said they trained year-round with two practices a day during the school semester and swimming all summer every day up until the start of the race.
Catizone, team captain, has been swimming for nine years, adding it wasn’t just their first time with the marathon, but collectively their first time in open water with the threat of the current, rising waves and poor visibility.
“You definitely start to feel it in your shoulders,” she said. “Once we got to mile 5 it got to be a little mentally grueling, but you just think about the reason why you’re doing it, and the people who you’re doing it for, and it helps you push through.”
Haddow said stepping into open water was at times a shock, sometimes literally as they approached the middle of the Sound where the temperature grew cold, and they swam on without wet suits.
“Once we swam into Captain’s Cove, spirits were high again, and once we came in sight of the harbor, we kicked it into gear and all four of us were sprinting to make it to the finish,” she said, adding she was the last one to swim the last leg to the finish line. “Because you swam all day through 15.5 miles, just getting there and hearing your name being called, participating with such a great foundation, it was just the best feeling.”
Both the team and individual swimmers struggled the distance for people in their lives who have or are currently battling cancer. Catizone swam in honor of her grandparents and a friend who is a two-time cancer survivor. Haddow swam in honor of her grandfather, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. As a team, they swam in memory of a SHU alumni family member who passed last year from cancer.
“Once it got really tough, I told myself, ‘Keep swimming,’ because it was not for me, it was for somebody else,” Haddow said.