By Mara Certic
Hundreds of people are expected to show up to Fresh Pond in Amagansett on Saturday, July 12, in their bathing suits, trunks and goggles for a swim in aid of Fighting Chance, the cancer support group.
“Almost everything we do is fundraising for our community,” said Jim Arnold, one of the 10 officers in the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue, which is hosting its fifth annual swim in conjunction with Swim Across America this weekend.
Swimmers must raise money in order to partake in the event; children under 14 must raise a minimum of $300 and those 15 and older must get pledges for at least $500. According to Mr. Arnold, however, over the years, each swimmer has managed to collect an average of $1,000 apiece for this swim, all of which goes to benefit Fighting Chance and cancer research.
“Pretty much everyone has a story about how cancer has affected their lives,” Mr. Arnold said. He added that this one athletic event has raised over $450,000 since its inception in 2010.
Participants of all ages can choose to swim the half mile, mile or 3-mile course. “This is one of the many areas in how accomplished our swimmers are,” Mr. Arnold said. “Our children are the youngest to start in the Swim Across America events.” He explained that there are over 40 Swim Across America swims throughout the country. “We have 7- and 8-year-olds swimming the half-mile in record time,” he said.
Saturday’s swim, he added, is not competitive. Swimmers vying for a title or prize can compete in the two races organized by Ocean Rescue this summer—the Montauk Ocean Swim later this month benefits the Montauk Playhouse and August’s “Red Devil” Swim raises funds for the East Hampton YMCA Hurricanes Swim Team. Both of these events are timed.
“If we lived on the mountains in Vermont they’d be racing down hills in record time,” he said. The very high standard of swimming might also be attributed to the Junior Lifeguarding Program organized and taught by members of the organization.
The very popular youth program for children aged 9 to 14 attracts approximately 300 kids a summer to beaches in East Hampton, Amagansett and Montauk. The summer-long program is taught by Ocean Rescue members and certified ocean lifeguards and is designed to make children more comfortable in the water, to teach them water safety and to instill among them a sense of camaraderie. “They make lifelong relationships,” Mr. Arnold said.
The volunteer organization trains and tests all of the guards, Mr. Arnold said. They hold CPR classes and hold lifeguarding tournaments. “Our little community puts forward one of the highest achieving teams” at the Lifeguarding National Championships, he said. “We’re rated right up there with Santa Monica; they have about 1,000 guards to our 60.”
The first incarnation of Ocean Rescue was the Dory Rescue Squad, a group of dory boat fishermen who realized that there was a need for a group to respond to water-related emergencies.
When that group eventually disbanded, a group of local surfers and lifeguards formed the current organization as it is today. “We’re all leftover lifeguards,” Mr. Arnold said of the organization’s members. “We’re the masters, if you will.”
In addition to responding to 911 calls and spearheading educational programs, these maritime maestros and mavens also guard all of the triathlons and paddling events in the area, including Sag Harbor’s “Paddle for Pink,” which raised $1.1 million for charity last year. “That blows us away,” he said. “That was phenomenal.”
The group is also responsible for one of winter’s most highly anticipated East End events: the Polar Bear Plunge. For a meager fundraising fee of $30, participants get to welcome in the New Year by jumping into the water at Main Beach in East Hampton—and they receive a free embroidered winter hat.
With promises to have five members at any nearby water emergency within five minutes, Ocean Rescue comprises residents dedicated to giving back to the community by saving lives, volunteering their time and supervision and educating the next generation of heroes who keep swimmers safe.