By Gavin Menu
Swim Across America, which hosts over 30 events across the country every year, is a family affair when it’s localized to the East End of Long Island.
Close to a hundred swimmers—brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles and longtime friends—gathered at Fresh Pond in Amagansett early Saturday morning for the fifth annual swim organized by the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue squad, which benefits Fighting Chance in Sag Harbor, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and other research organizations.
“If you’re not actually a blood relative, you become a family member when you’re involved with our group,” said Jim Arnold, one of the event organizers and an officer in the Ocean Rescue squad. “It’s a very welcoming and loving group.”
The local Swim Across America event raised roughly $450,000 in its first four years, and this year’s swim, according to Arnold, raised an additional $100,000.
For Stephanie Bogetti and her children, Georgi and Zach, Saturday’s event was a day to remember. Saturday’s event was held in memory of their husband and father, Jeff, who was an original member of Ocean Rescue before he lost his battle with brain cancer in May of this year.
“Jeff was an incredible person, a fantastic father and a loving husband,” said Richard Kalbacher, the chief of Ocean Rescue. “Jeff was a true friend.”
Griffin and Sophia Taylor, 16 year-old twins from New York City, finished first and second, respectively, in the 1-mile swim on Saturday, besting a field of 49 swimmers, although the event is not billed as a competitive race and official times are not kept.
Darcy McFarland, 11, a student at Spring School and a strong up-an-coming swimmer in the East Hampton YMCA Hurricanes program, was the first swimmer to emerge from the water in the half-mile swim, which included 23 other simmers, many of who are young participants in East Hampton Town’s Junior Lifeguard program.
“We refuse to put anyone in the water who doesn’t qualify as a good swimmer,” said John Ryan Sr., who ran the town’s lifeguard program for many years before turning over the reins to his son, John Jr. “For four months on Sundays we train local kids and by the time they get to the ocean, they’re good swimmers.”
Saturday’s event also featured 23 competitors who have established themselves as elite swimmers. Rod McClave, 40, finished first in the 5K (3.1 mile) swim, recording a time of 1 hour and 3 minutes, which was slightly off his time from last year, when he also finished first.
“I retired from racing in February so I haven’t been doing much training,” said McClave, who has been hit hard by cancer in his own life.
“Four years ago I lost four friends to cancer in 10 weeks,” he said. “It’s pretty terrifying. These people are fighting the good fight, and we’ll keep fighting until there’s a cure.”
While Saturday’s swim was not technically competitive, the Ocean Rescue team will be hosting two more events later this summer—the Montauk Ocean Swim at Kirk Park on July 26 benefiting the Montauk Playhouse and the “Red Devil” Swim back at Fresh Pond on August 17 to benefit the East Hampton YMCA Hurricanes Swim Team—where times will be kept and prizes awarded. Both events feature similar length swims to Saturday, with a one mile, half mile and 5K competitions.
“The swimmer that comes to the ocean swim is usually a little more of an accomplished swimmer,” Arnold said, adding that McClave won the long distance event last year, but that this year’s race could be more wide open. “We are all blown away by Rod, but I think there’s going to be more competition for him this year. We have swimmers from across the county coming just for this event.”