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Darien swimmer leads team in Swim Across America

Updated 10:38 am, Thursday, June 26, 2014

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  • Owen Brannigan was the team captain of the Blue Wave team at  the Greenwich Open Water Swim for Swim Across America on Saturday, June 21. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News Contributed
    Owen Brannigan was the team captain of the Blue Wave team at the Greenwich Open Water Swim for Swim Across America on Saturday, June 21. Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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Owen Brannigan's younger brother, P.K., may have completed a 3-mile open swim faster than he did, but the Darien brothers did the swim in 63-degree water to raise money for cancer research.

The Brannigans -- ages 17 and 15 -- were part of a team of 14 Blue Wave swimmers who participated in Swim Across America Saturday in Stamford.

Owen, who was the team captain, swam alone in 2013 for his aunt, who he said had "battled all sorts of cancer," and this year for his grandfather, who overcame skin and colon cancer.

"He has a strong passion for helping others," Owen said about his grandfather.

On Saturday, the DHS swimmers -- along with roughly 250 others -- went head first into Dolphin Cove. Though not all members were able to complete the swim, the team raised $11,763, according to Swim Across America. The entire event raised $330,045.46, according to Swim Across America.

One of the Blue Wave swimmers is "deathly afraid" of open water, Owen said, but opted to swim anyway because he wanted to raise money and be part of the team.

Owen -- who will swim at Washington and Lee University in the fall -- said he hopes next year he can get together a bigger team and raise more money.

Twenty-seven years ago Darien's Matt Vossler and his childhood friend and college roommate, Fairfield's Jeff Keith, founded the first swim event following an eight-month run in 1985 across America to raise funds for cancer research. It was initially called Swim Across the Sound, but after becoming a national campaign was renamed Swim Across America.

Keith's leg was amputated from the knee down when he was 12 because of bone cancer. Keith is nationally known as the first parathlete to run across the country.

"He didn't let that throw him from living an active live," Vossler said. "Jeff became a role model for cancer survivors."

Swim Across America has raised more than $45 million to help with cancer research, prevention and treatment.

The funds raised from Saturday's swim will benefit the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, of Stamford, which supports revolutionary scientific research into the causes, treatment and prevention of all types of cancer using cells and genes as medicine, according to its website.

In 1987, the swim was a relay across the Long Island Sound to Fairfield, but the event now is comprised of a half-mile, mile-and-a-half, and 3-mile swim.

Since its inception, Swim Across America has continued to evolve, not just in the number of participants and money raised, but also in the number of events. Other open water swims take place in Massachusetts, New York, California, Illinois, Washington, Maryland, Texas, Rhode Island and Tennessee. The last event will take place in the San Francisco Bay in September.

In addition to the open water swims, dozens of pool swims occur across the country.

Vossler said a lot of Darien residents -- if they weren't swimming -- volunteered to be in kayaks and boats on the water maintaining the course, which was "critical."

"This was a big year for us in terms of getting Darien involved," Vossler said, though he said he looks at the event as a "Fairfield County" event and not one that is contained to a singular town or city.

"It's really an amazing event," Vossler said. "I'm just so happy to have so many residents involved. As we grow this event, we want more people to get into it. We're already thinking about 2015 and getting the word out."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews