Tearful Goodbyes – and Celebration – as Annual Swim Moves to Sag Harbor


Members of the East Hampton YMCA Hurricanes came out for Saturday’s swim. Stephanie Brabant photo

By Emma Betuel

At Havens Beach on Saturday, seniors from the East Hampton Hurricanes swim team took their last strokes together on the East End, local triathletes paid tribute to friends who had battled cancer and the Fighting Chance chorus made its 2017 debut with a rendition of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”

Around 7 a.m., athletes from the community came together to tackle either a half-mile, full-mile, or two-mile swim to benefit Fighting Chance, a local organization that provides wellness services to those affected by cancer. The top finisher in the two-mile swim — named “We Swim For You” — was Michal Petrzela, who also finished first in the distance swim last summer.

Michal Petrzela emerges from Saturday’s We Swim For You event at Haven’s Beach in Sag Harbor. Emma Betuel photo

But even the most competitive swimmers were adamant that this event wasn’t about posting record times, it was about the spirit of persistence embodied by the swimmers — some cancer survivors themselves — who took the plunge into Sag Harbor Bay. This year, East Hampton High School graduate Cecilia de Havenon organized a team in honor of her Aunt, Sarah de Havenon-Fowler, who is currently battling cancer. They raised nearly all of their $5,000 goal.

“I initially thought that maybe $1,000 should be the goal, or maybe $5,000 but they [event organizers] put down $5,000,” de Havenon said before her one-mile swim. “I wasn’t sure that we would be able to raise it, but we did. Everyone just really stepped up.”

A great deal of help came from her teammates on the Hurricanes, who she has been swimming with for eight years. According to their coach Tom Cohill, the Hurricanes are a top 12 and older swim team in New York. These were the last strokes this group which is only graduating two seniors, would take together this season.

“I knew I could count on them,” de Havenon added. “When I asked them, all of them said yes within two minutes.”

Earlier this year, a Hurricanes relay team comprised of de Havenon, Caroline Oakland, Maddie Jones and Maggie Purcell placed first in the 400-yard freestyle relay at the New York State YMCA Championship meet. In addition, de Havenon placed second in the 100-yard backstroke, and will compete for Bowdoin College in the fall.

Dr. Valerie King, left, and Dr. Bill Discipio at Saturday’s swim in Sag Harbor. Emma Betuel photo

Although the Fighting Chance Swim has been a staple in the summer program, there have been significant overhauls to the structure of the event. Initially, Fighting Chance and Swim Across America were partners, according to Dr. Bill Discipio, the director and member of the Fighting Chance Chorus. Fighting Chance is dedicated to creating a culture of health and wellness for those battling cancer — it is not the typical research institution sponsored by Swim Across America.

“They offered to be one of our sponsors which was unusual because they sponsor only research institutes,” Discipio said. “We’re not doing that, we are helping people now, by giving direct care. So we became one of the only direct services funded by Swim Across America.”

While Swim Across America still contributed funds to the Haven’s Beach swim, it has rolled back its involvement with the event. Fighting Chance — the primary organizer for the event — supplemented the effort with locally-based support from goodcircle, a marketing platform that connects businesses, individuals and non-profit organizations, and the YMCA in East Hampton.

“The collaboration between the East Hampton Y and Fighting Chance is only about a month old,” says Judi Feldman, a member of the YMCA board of managers. “We are offering programs for cancer survivors at the Y which are tailor made for that group. We are identifying the needs in the community and trying to move forward with that.”

After finishing, swimmers surfaced to high fives from families who had waited on shore. Surrounded by her Hurricane teammates, de Havenon said she’s ready to embrace college swimming, but that the experience on Saturday morning was bittersweet.

“This is the last real race-type situation with this team,” she said. “I’m really excited for college, but it’s going to be really hard to leave behind these girls. It meant a lot to me that the were behind me in doing this.”

John Ryan Sr. welcomes a young swimmer back to the beach on Saturday. Emma Betuel photo

A furry friend enjoys Saturday’s swim. Emma Betuel photo

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