Swim Across America expects about 250 swimmers in Saturday's charity event in fight against cancer
Some causes are worth fighting for -- and some are worth swimming for.
Now in its 26th year, "Swim Across America" will host the Stamford/Greenwich open water swim on Cummings Point Road at the Stamford/Greenwich border -- and it falls into both of those categories.
Darien's Matt Vossler and Fairfield's Jeff Keith, who played lacrosse together at Boston College, started Swim Across America in 1987 and have since raised over $45 million to help with cancer research, prevention and treatment.
"In college we played lax together at Boston College. We started doing endurance races in the summer," Vossler said. "That's when Jeff got an idea; he wanted to run from Boston to Los Angeles, which he did. When he finished the run, we said `what's the next thing?' We thought that swimming would be unique because no one was doing it. It wasn't a 10K or a golf event. At that point it was new."
Fast forward 26 years, and the event has grown by leaps and bounds to benefit Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (ACGT), located in Stamford.
"We will probably raise excess of $5 million this year. What we have in the ACGT is the top non-profit organization that funds cutting edge cancer research," Vossler said. "It's very meaningful because it's at the top of research."
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Keith is himself a cancer survivor, having lost his leg to bone cancer when he was 12.
"There are millions of survivor stories out there and they're all very compelling. If my story helps five or six people with similar circumstances, then to me that's what it's all about," Keith said. "I feel I was one of the lucky ones to survive when the survival rates were about 25 percent. Not a day goes by where I don't wake up and feel like I need to give back. I won the lottery of life and got a second chance. If we can rally behind other people and inspire other cancer survivors to do really amazing things, then that's great."
For the past six years, the event has been held at the Stamford/Greenwich border, but prior to that, it was known as the "Swim Across the Sound." As the name would suggest, the swimmers started at Long Island Sound and finished at Fairfield Beach.
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.
In addition to the open water swims, dozens of pool swims occur across the country.
On Saturday, swimmers will have a choice between several distances, but there is also room for non-swimmers to help. Typically, participants come from far and wide to donate to the event, and New Canaan's John and Tucker Murphy are among them.
"I just encourage people to get involved. It's a great way to give back to the community and help people you personally know and also people you don't know," said John Murphy, who has been involved in the six years that the even has taken place in Stamford/Greenwich and typically organizes the kayakers. "We need to get more people from New Canaan involved, both to swim and to volunteer. The water is pretty cold and swimming that long in cold water can be tough. Some people wander all over the place, so we direct them."
Among the 250 or so swimmers who will participate in Saturday's event is Darien High School senior-to-be Owen Brannigan, who competes on the Blue Wave swim team in the 50 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the backstroke. This is his first time participating in "Swim Across America."
"I'd always been interested in doing it. I'm generally a sprinter, but I'm doing the long distance (3-miler) for this," Brannigan said. "I'm doing it because I want to prevent cancer from ever having an effect on my family and also for other people. I've heard of friends who have lost people to it."
Keith was quick to give credit to the thousands of people who have contributed to the program's enormous growth over the years.
"We envisioned this thing to take off across the country, have open water swims, pool swims and create sort of a movement of grassroots events in raising money for the fight across America," Keith said. "So, it's exciting to see that the original concept has been executed. We've met every expectation and then some. It's really due to the thousands of volunteers who have made it as successful as it is. It's a testimony to all of those who care about this and to the participants who keep coming back."
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