By Gavin Menu
Many of the participants in the Hamptons Open Water Swim, sponsored by Swim Across America every year at Fresh Pond in Amagansett, are elite swimmers, current lifeguards or up-and-coming talents whose second home come summertime is in the water.
Michal Petrzela was first to finish the 5K swim in this year’s event, which was held on Saturday, July 9, in difficult, windy conditions. He swam in college at Syracuse University and trains year-round in New York City. Griffin Taylor finished first in the 1-mile swim and is off to Boston College in the fall to join that school’s Division I program. Amanda Calabrese, a native of East Hampton and soon-to-be sophomore at Stanford University, is an elite-level surf lifeguard who easily finished first in the half-mile swim on Saturday.
For others, however, the swim is a huge challenge regardless of distance, but one they take on to help in the all-important fight against cancer. Take Duncan Darrow, for example. The chairman of Fighting Chance, a cancer support organization based in Sag Harbor which is one of the main beneficiaries of the event, said on Saturday that he focused on his mother and brother, both of whom died from cancer, in an effort to complete the half-mile distance.
“One stroke for you, Mom, and one stroke for you Pete. And I just keep counting like that,” he said. “If you’re the head of the charity, you have to swim, and I’m not a very good swimmer. Swim Across America is great, Ocean Rescue is fantastic and it’s a really nice event for our cause.”
The East Hampton Ocean Rescue squad, which is comprised of dozens of former and current lifeguards, hosts Swim Across America every summer, with this year’s event raising nearly $70,000 for a host of charities including Fighting Chance, Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, Children’s Hospital Montefiore, The Feinstein Institute of North Shore-LIJ and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
On hand on Saturday was Rob Butcher, who took over as CEO of Swim Across America in January. He explained how the events sponsored by his organization are designed to support local beneficiaries, while also giving funds to major cancer research and treatment centers across the United States. Keeping a large portion of the funds local, he said, allows the participants to “actually get to see where their dollars are going.”
“If you look at Memorial Sloane Kettering in the ’90s, Jedd Wolchok, who I think is here today — no one would provide funding for immunotherapy — and he said ‘You guys were the first ones to step up and provide funding for us,” said Butcher, whose organization has raised roughly $65 million during the last 30 years. “He said ‘For 10 years, you guys put in $10 million in funding and we didn’t have any breakthroughs to speak of, we didn’t have any FDA approvals. The last 10 years we’ve had four FDA approvals that we helped participate in with clinical trials and research that are helping treat melanoma and other forms of cancer. Lives are being saved and families are being given hope.”
Saturday’s swim was made more difficult by steady 10- to 12-mile per hour winds from the east that made the water choppy and the first leg of the course a grind. “And then it was kind of a surf coming in,” said Petrzela, 41, who swam the grueling first leg three times to complete the 5K distance.
For Calabrese, the half-mile swim was an easy cruise. The 18 year-old lifeguard who has competed over the last two years as a member of the United States international junior surf lifesaving team, returned home just two days before Saturday’s swim after spending a month in Australia, where she joined the renowned Currumbin Surf Life Saving team.
The 1-mile swim was also a cruise for Taylor and his twin sister, Sophia, who finished close behind her brother. The young swimmer, who finished first in the 5K last year, swam the mile since he has a meet this weekend with his club team, the Manhattan Makos.
And as for Darrow, whose Fighting Chance team raised more than $11,000 through Saturday’s swim, he was just happy to see approximately 100 swimmers of all ages and ability come together to help fight cancer.
“So many causes are controversial these days,” he said, “It’s nice to find one we can all agree on.”